It's time to close Formula 1's cockpits

Formula One F1 Grand Prix Alonso Raikkonen Vettel

Another driver injury, this time to Jules Bianchi, means that it's time for F1 to eliminate an innate risk with the sport

This is not an inquest into the awful turn of events which lead to Jules Bianchi's injury; the time for that is later when hopefully the prayers of the F1 world are answered. Instead, it is a mere examination of fact: another open-cockpit driver has suffered a severe head trauma.

It's the second time that the tragic reality of having a driver severely injured has befouled Marussia in their young, five-year history. In July 2012, test driver Maria de Villota suffered a head injury in a testing accident. She died from her injuries 15 months later. 

Along with de Villota, Dan Wheldon and Henry Surtees have lost their lives to head injuries sustained in single-seaters. Felipe Massa owes his career and life to modern helmet design. Added in to that are the numerous close calls: Tonio Liuzzi mounting Michael Schumacher's car at Abu Dhabi in 2010, or Romain Grosjean whipping across Fernando Alonso's cockpit in the chaos of the start of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix.

There is significant risk involved in all motorsport, especially with drivers' heads in open-cockpit series, but as the incidents stack up – freak accidents or not – it's time for the FIA to lead global motorsports and eliminate the risk by closing the cockpits.

This is not to say, of course, that the outcome of Bianchi's terrible accident would have been different had his cockpit have been closed. That is simply impossible to know, and not a macabre guessing game anyone wants to play right now. However, if a closed-cockpit would have given a chance of lessening the injury, then there won't be a soul in the F1 community who wouldn't wish that Jules had it.

Shortly after the severity of Bianchi's crash became apparent, Formula E and Audi LMP1 driver Lucas di Grassi tweeted his support for closing cockpits. The Brazilian stated he'd been in favour of them “since my GP2 accident in 09”, when he was lucky to escape injury in another freak accident where Alvaro Parente's car landed on top of di Grassi's during a race Barcelona.

All anyone has to do to see the importance of closing cockpits is look around di Grassi's Audi garage. There is no doubt that it was only a closed cockpit that saved Allan McNish from severe injury in 2011 when he suffered this accident. The same can be said for Mike Rockenfeller's fireball crash from later that night which reduced his car to a smoldering safety-cell. If they'd been in the previous year's open-cockpit version of their cars, the odds of them both walking away without lasting injury would have been severely reduced.

The success of LMP1's safety record with closed cockpits has even been a factor in LMP2 becoming a closed cockpit class as the new generations of cars are phased in. It's time for F1 to follow suit.

The implementation shouldn't be made hastily, as closing F1 cockpits will present a unique set of challenges. Keeping the screen clean, driver extraction, and visibility all need to be considered. The F1 circus should not turn up in Sochi with roll cages and perspex thrown over their cockpits, but make no mistake: closing F1's cockpits would significantly reduce the risk of head injuries and it needs to be investigated.

The issue of head injuries may only happen when there are freak accidents, but these freak accidents do happen – from de Villota and Wheldon to Massa and Bianchi. It will happen again, and when it does nobody in the F1 community will be able to look themselves in the mirror knowing that they had the chance to prevent it by taking action now.

There is always risk in motorsport, but if this risk can be eliminated then it's time for it to happen.