The Clinica Mobile has been part of the grand prix paddock since Dr Claudio Costa arrived at the 1977 Austrian GP in his first mobile hospital, a tiny VW van. That weekend at the Armco-lined Salzburgring was a baptism of fire for the Clinica: a mass pile-up during the 350cc race left Johnny Cecotto, Dieter Braun and Patrick Fernandez badly injured and Hans Stadelmann dead.
Costa is now retired and the Clinica Mobile is run by Michele Zasa, a trauma specialist who previously worked with an air-ambulance service in Britain, bringing pre-hospital emergency treatment to road-traffic accident victims.
During Italy’s recent Covid-19 emergency Zasa was on the frontline in his hometown of Parma, so he has more experience of the pandemic than most in the MotoGP paddock. Before the season restarted at Jerez last month, Zasa was part of the team that wrote MotoGP’s Covid-19 medical plan to allow racing to go ahead under a whole new set of regulations and protocols.
Inevitably, the virus has complicated life inside and outside the Clinica. PPE – masks, visors, gowns, gloves and so on – is now an everyday part of Zasa’s life. And all riders visiting the Clinica, whether they’ve just crashed or they need physio or rehab, must abide by the protocols, no matter who they are.
“When riders come to the Clinica they must first go through a triage area that we’ve established,” Zasa explains. “There they have their temperature and oxygen saturation checked. If we have any suspicion that they may be positive [for Covid] they are not brought into the Clinica, instead they are treated in the triage area or they may be taken to the circuit medical centre. Even if they have mild symptoms we cannot risk anything by bringing them into the Clinica.
“I do wonder about humanity’s intelligence. Outside the paddock I see people meeting and talking together without wearing masks”
“And even if riders post a negative result in the triage area we ask them to keep wearing their face masks when they are inside the Clinica. I have to say they all understand and accept this situation. And if they’ve forgotten their mask we give them one.”
Like everyone else in the paddock, Zasa was asked to reduce personnel for this Covid-affected season so when the racing restarted at Jerez he had half his usual physiotherapy staff.
“We don’t want the Clinica to be overcrowded, because this could potentially be dangerous. Usually we bring six or seven physiotherapists, three doctors and one radiologist. When we started work again at Jerez we had three physios and two doctors, including me, and we now use the radiologist from the circuit medical centre. This allows us to continue providing a high level of medical care.”
Although the Clinica is there to look after riders immediately after a crash, its biggest job is doing sports massages, physio and rehab. Most riders get a massage every day, to improve their performance and to keep their bodies flexible, which can reduce injury during a crash.
Before Jerez the Clinica decided to stop sports massages and only treat riders who needed physio or rehab. But this didn’t go down well with MotoGP riders.
“During the first Jerez weekend we realised that MotoGP riders do need sports massages, because the bikes they ride are so much more physical,” adds Zasa. “Together with Dorna and IRTA we decided to start sports massages for MotoGP riders only at the second Jerez race and from this weekend in Austria we will have four physios in the Clinica.
“When our physios give massages they wear their FFP2 mask at all times and also a face shield if they are working close to the rider’s face.
“Of course this feels a bit strange at first, but people adapt very quickly. This is the greatest strength of human beings throughout evolution, the ability to adapt. However, I do wonder about humanity’s intelligence, because outside the paddock in everyday life I see people meeting and talking together without wearing masks, when we know that a high percentage of the risk of infection is eliminated if people wear masks when they are close to each other.”
Alex Briggs raced motocross when he was a kid, got a job as a motocross mechanic as a teenager and landed his first gig in roadracing in 1993 with Rothmans…
Zasa and his doctors have been busy at the first few races of 2020: Cal Crutchlow, Marc Márquez and Álex Rins broke bones during the first Jerez weekend, Albert Arenas suffered a nasty leg injury next time out at Jerez and Pecco Bagnaia fractured his right tibia at Brno.
“We have the structure to deal with these injuries and then help the riders with rehab. Cal and Álex were in much better shape at Brno and Albert was able to get a good result there, for which he thanked us. Clinica physio Carlos Garcia also works with Marc when he needs extra help. He worked with Marc for his Jerez comeback and after his shoulder ops at the end of the 2018 and 2019 seasons.”
Zasa and the Clinica Mobile have no particular responsibility for treating Covid-19 cases in the paddock. The man in charge is MotoGP Medical Director Dr Angel Charte, who works with the Chief Medical Officer, an FIM-recognised local doctor who, according to international law, has legal responsibility for all medical matters at his or her local event.
MotoGP’s Covid-19 contingency plan included preparing circuit medical centres and local medical authorities to deal with any Covid-19 cases and nominating local hospitals, where any patients requiring hospitalisation would be referred.
Currently, everyone in the paddock must have a negative PCR test less than 96 hours old at the start of each weekend and every morning they have their temperature tested at the paddock gate. Random tests are also conducted throughout race weekends and teams are told not to mingle with other teams.
So far only one member of the MotoGP paddock has tested positive for the virus. This was a Dorna staffer at Brno, who was asymptomatic and was isolated in his hotel. Those who had been in close contact with him were also quarantined.