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Why do F1 cars spark?

The sight of sparks flying out from beneath a Formula 1 car makes for quite the visual, but what is the reason behind it?

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One of the most striking features for non-Formula 1 fans watching cars reach speeds over 300km/h are sparks pluming off the back of the cars, especially at night races, such as the Singapore Grand Prix.

They’ve become a regular part of the viewing experience since 2015, when titanium skid blocks were reintroduced to F1.

With cars getting lower, they were needed to protect the wooden planks underneath the cars, having last been seen in the 1990s.

However, it’s not a sign of damage to the car. Rather, it’s an effect of the skid blocks doing their job and protecting the floor.

The side-on profile looks very impressive with a mini rooster tail spurting out of the back. The rear-on view shows how contained the sparks are laterally, only coming out of the narrow plank in the middle.

What conditions cause the most sparking?

The downforce acting on the car presses it down into the tarmac and the higher the speed, the lower it goes.

That’s why you’ll see cars sparking the most on straights, and on bumpy tracks where the surface is less consistent. Baku, Singapore and Bahrain are the biggest culprits, which for the latter two can look spectacular against the dark skies.

Corners with significant elevation change – especially Eau Rouge at Spa – or the cars running over raised kerbs also throw up sparks.

It’s also more prominent at the start of races when cars are on heavy fuel, or doing race runs in practice.

Practice sessions see the most sparking regardless, as teams start the weekends cold and slowly dial in the cars, including cutting down on the plank hitting the ground.

Sparks fly behind Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing Red Bull during qualifying for 2017 Singapore Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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