Why Do Sparks Come Out Of F1 Cars?

Why do sparks come out of F1 cars?
Why do sparks come out of F1 cars?

Why do sparks come out of F1 cars? Sparks come out of F1 cars due to titanium skid blocks embedded in the ‘legality plank’ on the underside of the car. Aerodynamic forces cause the titanium to spark when the cars are pressed down onto the track at high speeds.

F1 regulations require the plank to maintain a minimum ride height and to limit the use of ground effects to enhance handling. Teams can be disqualified if their car has wear exceeding a millimetre, but the skid blocks can be used to reduce wear.

Why do sparks come out of F1 cars? 

Titanium skids were used previously in the ’80s and ’90s. To distract the drivers behind him, Nigel Mansell used to find bumps on the track to generate sparks. Titanium skids were reintroduced in 2015 for both safety reasons (titanium is lighter than tungsten) and to improve the show. 

“To explain: the plank is the long bit of wood, the skids are bits of metal within the plan. The skids have formerly been made of a heavy metal, which has been very resistant to wear, and they put the skids around the points in the plank where thickness is measured. Planks have to start off at nominally 10mm thick and they can’t be less than 9mm thick. However, we only measure them around certain holes in the plank. So they position the skids around those holes.

“This metal is extremely heavy and when pieces detach they can be extremely harmful. We saw two punctures in Spa previously because of bits of this metal that lay in a kerb and caused damage. In a worst case scenario they could fly off and hit someone.

“The purpose of making them out of titanium is threefold: Firstly, it’s safer, because if they do come off they are about a third of the weight of the existing ones.

“Secondly, the titanium wears some 2-2.5 times more quickly than the metal currently used. Thus cars will have to be run a little bit higher to manage wear and teams won’t be able to drag them on the ground quite as much as they have in the past.

“The third effect is that you will see a lot more sparks, which some people think will look a little more spectacular” FIA technical boss Charlie Whiting said at the time of their re-introduction.

Why do sparks come out of F1 cars?
2021 Monaco Grand Prix, Friday – Sergio Perez (image courtesy Red Bull Racing)

Titanium skids and the FIA Technical Regulations

The skids are defined in the FIA Technical Regulations…

3.7.11 Skids

The lower surface of the plank may be fitted with flush-mounted metal skids which:

a) May only be fitted in place of plank material.

b) Have a total area no greater than 20000mm² when viewed from directly beneath the car.

c) Are no greater than 4000mm² in area individually when viewed from directly beneath the car.

d) Are fitted in order that their entire lower surfaces are visible from directly beneath the car.

e) Must have a minimum cross-sectional thickness of 15mm across its external boundaries in plan view. The minimum wall thickness between an internal fixing hole and the external boundaries of the skid must be no less than 7.5mm.

f) Must have an upper surface no more than 3mm below the reference plane.

g) Must be designed such that they are secured to the car using the fasteners described in Article 3.7.12 and that, when viewed from directly beneath the car, no part of the skid is more than 50mm from the centre line of a fastener which passes through that skid.

h) Must be made from Titanium alloy.

Why do sparks come out of F1 cars? – Explained

In this video, WTF1 shows you why F1 cars spark, and the differences between the sparks in the 1980’s and the sparks now.

YouTube video

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