Why do sparks come from under F1 cars?

Jake Nichol November 20, 2021
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

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What are the sparks produced by F1 cars? Why do the cars produce them and why are they seen more in night races?

Qualifying for the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix has taken place at the Losail circuit, with cars producing sparks while out on track.

In the first segment, Max Verstappen’s Red Bull was producing the most sparks of any car as he finished second in Q1.

But why are the F1 cars producing sparks? How do they do it and what conditions are needed for the cars to spark?

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Sparks under F1 cars

The sparks produced in F1 is produced by a titanium blocks underneath the car.

When this hits the ground, it is known as the car ‘bottoming-out’.

Known as ‘the plank’, it was introduced to keep ride-heights – the distance the bottom of the car is above the ground – within safe margins after the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994.

The sparks created are when metal blocks attached to the plank hit the ground.

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Sparks are most prevalent when the car is being pushed into the ground by the downforce it is producing.

Through high-speed complexes of corners, as the car is pushed into the ground by the aerodynamic forces, sparks are created.

In 2015, titanium become mandatory to use – which provided a boost to the spectacle of F1 cars sparking.

Why is it seen more at night?

F1 cars spark all the time, whether it is in the day or night.

In the day, places such as Eau Rogue/Raidillion at Spa produce sparks as the cars compress while climbing the hill.

The first sector of the lap at Suzuka is also a good place for sparks as cars respond to the aerodynamic loads placed on them.

To explain simply, sparks are more clearly seen at night.

It is like why firework displays take place in the evening and at night as opposed to in the day.

F1 will have four night races in 2021, with three of them to close the season.

Bahrain opened the campaign, while Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi will all run at night as Hamilton and Verstappen hunt the title.

Photo by Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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Jake can usually be found writing about or watching anything to do with motorsport – from Formula 1 to NASCAR to British Truck Racing. His work as a motorsport journalist has been published by the likes of Autosport, Motorsport.com and Motorsport News – all highly respected names. Away from racing he is a keen amateur astronomer, podcast listener and enjoys long walks in the park with his three dogs.