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Chilton: Motor racing must push for closed cockpits

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Former Marussia driver Max Chilton says the motor racing community has to push for the introduction of closed cockpits in open wheel categories following the death of IndyCar driver Justin Wilson.

Chilton, who now races in the Indy Lights series beneath IndyCar, drove for Marussia in 2013 and 2014 and was the team-mate of Jules Bianchi when the Frenchman suffered a serious brain injury when he collided with a recovery vehicle at the Japanese Grand Prix last season. Bianchi died from his injuries in July.

Chilton was speaking after the death of fellow British driver Wilson, who succumbed to his injuries on Monday after being struck in the head by a piece of debris from Sage Karem's car during an IndyCar race at Pocono Speedway on Sunday. Wilson's death reignites the debate around closed cockpits in open wheel racing and Chilton thinks that area is the last safety hurdle motor racing needs to overcome.

"The cockpit area, our heads, is the one vulnerable area left on the car," Chilton told Sky Sports News. "The rest of the car is amazingly safe now. This is going to push forward a new design in closed cockpit racing.

"It's very rare but recently - as I know far too well losing Jules this year - it's happened too recently, for the second time. It's something we've got to get a hold of. I know it was a freak accident but there's definitely more we can do. It's always a freak accident which is going to get you and I want to find a way, with the racing community, that we can get a hold on it, and try and reduce the numbers because there's been too many recently."

After Felipe Massa suffered life-threatening injuries at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, caused when a spring fell from another car and struck him in the head, the FIA has conducted a series of tests into various closed cockpit concepts. Critics say closed cockpits would prevent easy escape for a driver in certain situations but Chilton is confident solutions can be found to address those concerns.

"There are definitely issues but we can come around and design something where we are more safe from debris, from head-on-collisions into tyre walls, and we can still get out ... So I think this will definitely push that forward.

"I've seen two designs - I've seen a full closed cockpit canopy, which I can see the downside is you can't get out if there's an accident. I still think you could design something where you could get out. The other thing is a boomerang with a central pole which would deflect anything head on but you could still climb out. The problem I have with that is there are several accidents, especially like Jules', where I don't think that would sustain the impact. So I think the canopy is the way forward, but we've got to make sure there's a way, maybe if it's hydraulically forced open by something, they can get out."

After Bianchi's accident, the FIA's official investigation found a closed cockpit would not have lessened the injuries sustained by the Marussia driver due to the extreme forces involved in the collision.