AMERICANS IN F1: DR. GARY HARTSTEIN There are no drivers from the United States competing in Formula One now, but the rest of the F1 fraternity is sprinkled with Americans. One of the most prominent U.S. citizens working in F1 these days is Dr.
AMERICANS IN F1: DR. GARY HARTSTEIN
There are no drivers from the United States competing in Formula One now, but the rest of the F1 fraternity is sprinkled with Americans. One of the most prominent U.S. citizens working in F1 these days is Dr. Gary Hartstein, who travels from Grand Prix to Grand Prix with the FIA's medical team.
Along with the FIA's Medical Delegate, Professor Sid Watkins, Hartstein rides around in the specially equipped Mercedes-Benz medical car that follows the F1 cars around on the first lap of the race and then stands poised to speed to the scene of any accident.
Hartstein's road to F1 began in Staten Island, New York, where he was born and raised. After attending the University of Rochester, he went to medical school in Liege, Belgium. He studied medicine in Belgium from 1977-83 and then went back to the Bronx to do his training in anesthesia and critical-care medicine. After a year and a half of residency in the Bronx, he returned to live in Belgium with his Belgian wife.
As a boy, he watched auto races on ABC's "Wide World of Sports" but didn't attend a race until he saw an Indy-style race in the Meadowlands in New Jersey about 15 years ago.
"I remember before the race seeing all the service cars and medical cars driving around the track and thinking to myself that must be really cool to do that," Hartstein said.
After moving back to Europe in 1989, he watched the Belgian Grand Prix on TV.
"I was watching the race on TV, and I thought, 'Wait a second, there are doctors there, put that on to do list: find doctors at track.'"
Hartstein soon got to know and work with the local Belgian doctors who worked at races at the Spa circuit.
"I started working at club races every two weeks and looking forward to the Grand Prix in 1990," Hartstein said. "In 1990, come Grand Prix weekend, I got to the circuit, and they said, 'OK, you have the most important job of all, you are going to ride with Watkins. I said who is he? They said Sid Watkins - he is the boss! I think they put me in the car with him because I spoke English! We got on fairly well and worked together each year at the Belgian Grand Prix."
England's Watkins has headed the FIA and F1 medical and safety efforts for decades. By 1996, Watkins and the FIA decided to have an anesthesiologist attend most of the Grand Prix weekends and asked Hartstein to do the job.
These days, Hartstein attends just about every Grand Prix.
"Our role is to supervise and coordinate and liaise with each local medical team," Hartstein said. "The care at trackside is really based on a local team taking care of people. They are held to certain standards in terms of numbers and equipment and organization.
"On paper, anyway, our job is to make sure all the rules are followed, and so we do a couple of medical inspections. The FIA medical car follows the cars around on the first lap of the race, so fairly often we are the first doctors on scene of an incident."
As a racing fan and one who grew up watching the Indianapolis 500 on TV, Hartstein was awestruck on his first visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the inaugural SAP United States Grand Prix in 2000.
"It was absolutely extraordinary," Hartstein said. "The infrastructure just blew me away. I couldn't believe how big it was. We drove around the full oval, and you see the black mark of the real racing line.
"I had watched the '500' on TV. I had watched Nigel Mansell tap the wall with his right-hand wheels and just keep going at over 200 mph. But when you see it in person, it is just staggering."
Naturally, no driver wants to have an accident. But it is reassuring for the drivers to know that Watkins and Hartstein, along with the well-staffed local medical team at each track, are on hand.
"I think of myself as the new guy in town because Sid has been around for a very long time and has an unbelievable amount of credibility," Hartstein said. "I'd like to think that the drivers know that they will be well taken care of. I would like to think that they feel safe and reassured seeing the same faces and knowing that we are there."