Ti­ta­nium skid blocks are set to make a re­turn in 2015 – but the real rea­son for the change will sur­prise you

F1 Racing - - IN­SIDER -

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

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