What Are The Sparks Below F1 Cars?
When you watch Formula 1 racing, you will likely notice the bright sparks that fly behind the cars as they race around the track. It’s a thrilling display, but have you ever wondered about the reason behind it? Read on to learn more.
Sparks in Formula 1
When under-car skid blocks drag along the track at high speeds, the friction creates sparks, which results in the glowing spray you see during a race. The sparks may look like a sign of damage, but they are actually a sign that the skid block is doing its job and protecting the car.
Formula 1 Planks
To understand the sparks produced, we first need to discuss an important part of the F1 car: the plank. The plank is located underneath the car, and it runs from the back to just in front of the front wheels. It is made out of a simple wood material called Jabroc, which is layers of beechwood treated with resin and veneers. F1 cars are required to have a plank to reduce under-body aerodynamics and prevent the risk of bottoming out. Bottoming out is when the underbody of the car hits the ground.
Under-body aerodynamics can be used for a technique called ground effect, which creates a vacuum that sucks the car to the road and makes it easier to grip and turn around corners. Ground effect was eventually banned because a bump in the track can cause that vacuum to break suddenly, making the driver lose control and possibly crash. The Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) began enforcing the use of planks to prevent these risks from happening.
Formula 1 Skid Blocks
In F1, there are strict rules about planks to make sure teams are competing at a fair height. As the car runs along the track, a plank can wear down and become shorter. As a result, if a racer’s plank takes too much damage, they can be disqualified from the competition. To protect the planks from the damage of friction, they are embedded with skid blocks, which are made from titanium. They stick out from the plank by no more than 3mm, that way, they hit the ground instead of the wood.
History of Formula 1 Sparks
The sparks we see today are different from the F1 sparks in the 1980s. Back then, before planks were a requirement, they were caused by racers intentionally grinding the bottom of their cars against the tarmac. Famous racer Nigel Mansell once said that he would look out for bumpy parts of the track so he could distract the drivers behind him with a shower of sparks. Today, sparks are still a beloved visual aspect of the sport; they are just created in a different way.
Are sparks in F1 dangerous?
In F1, sparks do not pose a significant danger to drivers, crew, officials, or spectators. The sparks are hot, and they can leave burn marks on helmets and race suits. However, the visors and other protective gear racers wear largely protect their skin from burns. While sparks could be dangerous to those without protective gear, the FIA takes extensive measures to protect competitors, officials, and fans.