Titanium skid blocks are set to make a return in 2015 – but the real reason for the change will surprise you
For the rst time in over 20 years, titanium skid blocks will be re-introduced to F1. The move has been interpreted by many as an attempt to spice up the show by making the cars produce sparks again. However, the reasons for this move are more complex and are laced with typical F1 intrigue.
Skid blocks are used in the cars’ oors at the points where the depth of the plank is measured – it must lose no more than 1mm of its 10mm thickness during a race, and use of heavy metals like tungsten prevents wear.
If these metals detach from the car, they can be dangerous: one caused two punctures in practice at the Belgian GP last year. And if they hit someone it could be fatal.
There is, however, a more interesting reason behind the return to titanium. It’s less hardwearing than tungsten and its equivalents, so cars will, in race director Charlie Whiting’s words, “have to be run a bit higher to manage wear, and teams won’t be able to drag them on the ground as much as in the past”.
This raises some interesting questions. Ever since a backward-facing thermal camera on the Red Bulls in Korea last year showed their front floors heating up at relatively low speeds, rivals and the FIA have been suspicious about what they were up to.
The floor would not normally touch the ground so much at those speeds, since it would mean it was hitting it even harder when the car was going faster and the aerodynamic loads on it were greater. So how were Red Bull stopping the front floor and plank wearing too much? Some wondered if Red Bull had a way of making the floor flex upwards, perhaps by heating it to let the car to run closer to the ground – therefore creating more downforce – than their rivals.
The FIA spent time investigating the Red Bull RB9 last year – including using blow torches in an attempt to heat its underfloor to the point where it might flex – but did not find anything untoward.
By introducing titanium skid blocks, the FIA has ensured any team attempting this in the future will not be able to pull it off. Titanium wears more quickly, which means the plank would be illegal by the end of the race if the car was run touching the ground.
The sparks are a nice touch – but seem to have been just a convenient cover story.
The RB9 was investigated by the FIA last year because it ran so close to the ground