Why Do F1 Cars Spark?

red bull f1 car sparking

Anyone observing a Formula 1 race can’t help but notice the dramatic spectacle of sparks in F1 cars. This radiant display, akin to fireworks, is both captivating and intriguing.

But behind the beauty lies the marvel of engineering and design. The primary reason behind these F1 car sparks is the titanium skid plates affixed to the cars. When these plates make contact with the track, due to intense downforce, they generate this brilliant display.

When did sparks appear on F1 cars?

The appearance of sparks in F1 cars isn’t a recent phenomenon. Sparks were particularly prominent during the late 1980s and early 1990s, a visual treat that added to the theatrics of F1 races.

However, with evolving aerodynamic designs and regulations over the years, sparking became less frequent.

It was only in the recent past, with the re-emergence of the ground effect and the focus on downforce, that sparks made a comeback, reminding viewers of the sport’s golden age.

Titanium skids on F1 cars

Introduced after the tragic passing of Ayrton Senna, the skid block has safety at its core.

Typically, this block is crafted from a material known as Jabroc. A composite made of beechwood, Jabroc involves layering veneers and integrating a high-strength resin within each layer. Once pressurized and pressed, Jabroc achieves a consistent material density, making every plank virtually identical in wear rate.

This plank, contrary to some beliefs, doesn’t restrict airflow beneath the car. It serves as a measure to control the car’s minimum ride height. The proximity of a car to the ground affects the efficiency of its aerodynamic components, like the front wing and rear diffuser.

Plank under the Mercedes F1 car of Lewis Hamilton
Plank under the Mercedes F1 car of Lewis Hamilton. Source: Motoracing.com

This efficiency directly impacts downforce levels, which influence cornering speeds. The skid block came into existence to regulate this proximity, ensuring safety. If the plank’s thickness is compromised beyond permissible limits, the car faces disqualification.

The F1 car wooden plank & titanium blocks in detail

All F1 cars are fitted with slender wooden planks beneath their floors. This mandate has been in place since 1994, a direct response to Ayrton Senna’s fatal accident. If these planks exhibit excessive wear, it can lead to race exclusions.

The 2022 F1 car models need to maintain minimal ground clearance for their aerodynamics to function optimally, necessitating a stiff suspension.

This rigidity, combined with the positioning of the drivers, can transmit significant vibrations, potentially causing harm over time. Some drivers, including George Russell and Carlos Sainz, have raised concerns over long-term health implications.

In light of these concerns, the FIA has been proactive, devising systems to measure and limit car bounces. The organization’s involvement hasn’t been without contention, as seen in events involving teams like Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull.

These debates around regulations and the skid blocks’ functionality exemplify the dynamic nature of Formula 1 racing, a blend of technology, competition, and strategy.

Per the technical guidelines that oversee F1 races, a rectangular skid block is required to be fitted below the central section of the car. Here are the specifics concerning this component:

  • It must stretch longitudinally, starting 330mm behind the front wheel’s central line and extending to the rear wheels’ central line.
  • The block should be composed of a uniform material.
  • Its width must measure 300mm (with a +/- 2mm tolerance).
  • The thickness is mandated at 10mm (with a +/- 1mm tolerance).
  • It must possess a consistent thickness when new.
  • The skid block should be mounted symmetrically about the car’s center line, ensuring that air doesn’t seep between it and the parts on the reference plane.
source: GP Planet

Are the sparks from F1 cars dangerous?

Sparks in F1 cars, while appearing formidable and concerning, are relatively harmless. These sparks are, in essence, a manifestation of the titanium skid blocks doing their job.

Due to their ephemeral nature, these sparks disintegrate rapidly, thereby negating any potential threat to drivers trailing the sparking vehicle. Some savvy drivers have even exploited this phenomenon as a strategy, using the sparks as a distraction tool for their competitors.


To sum it up, the enthralling sparks in F1 cars are a testament to the incredible synergy of engineering, physics, and entertainment. The titanium F1 car design, with its skid blocks, not only ensures the safety of the vehicle but also provides an unparalleled visual treat for audiences worldwide.

The sight of F1 cars sparking encapsulates the essence of F1 racing – a delicate balance of technology, safety, and spectacle. The world of Formula 1, with its blend of competition, innovation, and drama, continues to captivate, and the sparking phenomenon is a shining example of this allure.