It's Time to Close the Cockpits on Open-Wheel Race Cars

I’m writing this out of hurt. I’m writing this out of anger. I’m writing this because we lost another racer to an injury that never should have happened in the first place.

Justin Wilson lost his life earlier tonight after striking the front of another car during the ABC Supply 500 in Pocono on Sunday. He’s leaving behind a wife and two young daughters. He’s leaving behind an entire family of fans, teammates, and fellow racers. Most importantly, he’s leaving behind the sport that he loved.

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But why did this happen? Why are we still living in an antiquated era where open-cockpit race cars are an acceptable thing? Screw history, screw your outdated ways of thinking—change needs to happen. Now.

Over the history of racing, we’ve lost a number of drivers. Some more recent than others; Bianchi, Wheldon, Surtees, Ratzenberger, Senna. Following Jules Bianchi’s fatal crash at the Japanese Grand Prix earlier in the year, fellow racer Fernando Alonso spoke candidly to the press about the issue.

We should at least check and try or test the idea of closed cockpits. We have the technology, we have airplanes, and have had many other samples that they use in a successful way, so why not think about it. All the biggest accidents in motor sports over the last couple years have been head injuries so it’s probably one part where we are not at the top of safety.

And why shouldn’t we? We do indeed have the technology to make it happen.

Initial concerns have people worried over safety, specifically fire, arguing that it makes it harder for drivers to exit the vehicle in case it gets set ablaze. That argument seems kind of flawed, though, considering the amount of closed-cockpit racing series’ that have had little to no issues with driver safety in regards to fire.

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A follow up concern is that of visibility. Of course, anything put in front of anyone limits visibility, and the closing of the cockpit could possibly do that. But look at the current Formula 1 car (below)—side visibility is already very limited due to previous safety concerns. So how much more limiting could it be in the name of an even safer vehicle?

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The FIA and F1 teams have being doing research into the idea for years, so it’s not some knee-jerk call to action. It’s a serious issue that needs to be perfected, finalized and put into practice in the next few years.

Granted, I’m not a motorsports writer, I’m not even that big of a Formula 1 or IndyCar fan. But anytime someone in this tight-knit automotive community loses their life, you have to question the worth of it all.

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The lives of our friends and family members are not worth the history associated with open-wheel, open-cockpit racing. When tradition comes before safety, there is an issue—both Formula 1 and IndyCar.

Hearing the news of Justin’s passing, I think we all lost a part of ourselves in the process. I encourage you to support his family here. But even more importantly, continue the push for safer racing to prevent these tragedies from happening in the future.

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