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Why Do F1 Cars Spark? Answers to Common Formula 1 Questions

  • Cars Explained
  • Silas Smith
  • 5 minutes

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Are you ready to find answers to some of the most intriguing questions about Formula 1? Why do F1 cars spark? Why do they zig-zag? And more.  

You might have seen sparks under F1 cars during a Grand Prix race. But why do sparks fly from F1 cars? It is a stunning sight when sparks fly from the car’s undercarriage. It is very important to know if it is a warning sign or a cosmetic feature that the manufacturers have placed in the underbelly of the car. You can read more about it and find answers to other commonly asked questions about F1 racing. 

Why do F1 cars spark so much? 

F1 cars spark when the skid blocks make contact with the track. But to answer this question you must know how low an F1 car is. We all know by seeing any F1 competition car how low they are. The nose of the car is the closest to the ground, and the ride height reduces from the back to the front. 

There is a plank under every F1 car to prevent the car from bottoming out. Usually, bottoming out occurs on the straights and can cause serious damage to the underside of the car. Also, the plank has skid blocks made of titanium. When the car bottoms out, the protruding titanium skid blocks make contact with the track surface first. The friction creates beautiful sparks that create a great photo opportunity. 

Why do F1 cars have a wooden plank? 

The plank prevents the car from damage while bottoming out. It also possesses legality as far as race is concerned. The rules of F1 state that the car must have a certain ride height. This is to prevent teams from gaining an unfair advantage using the ‘ground effect’ aerodynamics, which keeps the car as close to the track as possible. 

After the race, the plank height is measured. The driver will be disqualified if the damage is too much, i.e., thickness has reduced more than a fixed value.  

Sparking in straight 

Straights are usually when the car travels at the highest speed. Sparks will fly more during this period because of scientific reasons. At high speeds, generally around 200 to 300 mph, the car’s aerodynamics will push the car down with great force. The faster you go, the higher this force will be. Because of this downward force, the height of the car will decrease considerably. This is what results in F1 cars sparking. 

The downward force is both good and bad. It is good for making side-to-side movements, and the drivers can reduce lap times by easily cornering the car. But on straights, the force will be too high, and the chances of the bottom of the car touching the track are extremely high. So that is why F1 cars spark more on the straights compared to other regions of the track. 

Why do F1 cars have a red flashing light? 

It is a warning mechanism for other drivers. The flashing red light alerts other drivers that a car is in front of them. If you are a fan who has been watching F1 races for a long time, you might have seen some wet races.  

On rainy days the visibility will be extremely low. Thanks to the open cockpits and lack of windshields, the rain will be directly smashing the driver’s helmets. The rain in the helmet visors and the spray of water falling and bouncing off the track can negatively affect visibility.  

You know how poor visibility can lead to accidents on normal city roads. So, there is no question about how it can negatively affect the safety of F1 drivers. Forget F1 cars sparking; there will be major accidents and fires on the F1 track due to lack of visibility. That is why every car has a red flashing light at the back.  

The red lights are also used in dry conditions. In qualifying or practice laps, the cars will use the red lights to let other drivers know that they are slowing down to go for a pit stop. Similarly, when a driver is using the Energy Recover System (ERS), the red lights at the back of the car will start flashing. 

Why do Formula 1 cars zig-zag? 

Formula 1 cars usually zig-zag during the pace lap. It is also known as the formation or parade lap, where the cars and drivers get to warm up. As the name suggests, during this warm-up lap, the drivers check for any functional issues with the F1 car. The zig-zag motion heats up the tires and thus burns any debris. This motion can also help burn excess fuel in the car. Since the car is going in between 30 and 75 mph, the drivers and the cars get a proper warm-up for the long race ahead. 

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