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I'm watching the Abu Dhabi GP and I keep seeing sparks coming out from behind the cars. Maybe it's more clear because it's in the evening and it's dark, but the commentator doesn't say anything indicating a problem with the car, and it doesn't happen all of the time so I can only assume it's something that is supposed to happen and is maybe related to KERS.

If so, what is it that causes the sparks? And if it's not KERS, what is causing the sparks?

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According to this BBC article, the sparks are caused by titanium skid plates on the underside of the car contacting the track.

  • Also, its related more to the track also. Singopore GP at Marina Bay has sparks flying literally every lap – KharoBangdo Dec 3 '15 at 6:16
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KERS Does Not Cause Sparks

KERS stands for kinetic energy recovery. It is a set of magnets driven by the crank of the engine that become 'excited' by electrical impulse on deceleration of the vehicle. The magnets then create an electromagnet field that creates resistance to the wheels and slows the car down while recovery electrical energy that is then stored chemically in batteries.

Upon acceleration the KERS unit can have it's polarity changed and turned into an electric motor that will drive the car forward in conjunction with the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) and add power via electrical energy.

Sparks

As @davidmneedham indicates in this post the sparks are from titanium skid plates mounted underneath the cars.

These skid plates are defined in the 2016 Technical Regulations Section 3 Subpart 13.

To give you an idea of how tightly defined the technical regulations are I'm pasting the entire regulation related to skid plates.

3.13 Plank and skids : 3.13.1 Beneath the surface formed by all parts lying on the reference plane, a rectangular plank, with
a 50mm radius (+/-2mm) on each front corner, must be fitted. This plank may comprise no
more than three pieces, the forward one of which may not be any less than 1000mm in length, but must: a) Extend longitudinally from a point lying 330mm behind the front wheel centre line to
the rear wheel centre line. b) Be made from an homogeneous material with a specific gravity between 1.3 and 1.45. c) Have a width of 300mm with a tolerance of +/- 2mm. d) Have a thickness of 10mm with a tolerance of +/- 1mm. e) Have a uniform thickness when new. f) Have no holes or cut outs other than those necessary to fit the skids permitted by 3.13.2
or the fasteners permitted by 3.13.3, or those holes specifically mentioned in g) below. g) Have seven precisely placed holes the positions of which are detailed in Drawing 1. In
order to establish the conformity of the plank after use, its thickness will only be
measured in the four 50mm diameter holes and the two forward 80mm diameter holes. Four further 10mm diameter holes are permitted provided their sole purpose is to allow
access to the bolts which secure the Accident Data Recorder to the survival cell. h) Be fixed symmetrically about the car centre line in such a way that no air may pass
between it and the surface formed by the parts lying on the reference plane. The lower edge of the periphery of the plank may be chamfered at an angle of 30° to a depth
of 8mm; the trailing edge however may be chamfered over a distance of 200mm to a depth of
8mm. 3.13.2 The lower surface of the plank may be fitted with flush mounted metal skids which : a) Have a total area no greater than 20000mm² when viewed from directly beneath the car. 2016 F1 Technical Regulations 17/90 2 December 2015 © 2015 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile b) Are no greater than 4000mm² in area individually when viewed from directly beneath the car. c) Are fitted in order that their entire lower surfaces are visible from directly beneath the car. d) Must have a minimum cross sectional thickness of 15mm across its external boundaries
in plan view. The minimum wall thickness between an internal fixing hole and the external boundaries of the skid must be no less than 7.5mm. e) Must have an upper surface no more than 3mm below the reference plane. f) Must be designed such that they are secured to the car using the fasteners described in
3.13.3 and that, when viewed from directly beneath the car, no part of the skid is more
than 50mm from the centreline of a fastener which passes through that skid. g) Must be made from Titanium alloy. 3.13.3 The plank and skids must be fixed to the car using fasteners which : a) Are no smaller than M6 and are made from grade 12.9 steel. b) If used to attach a skid to the car, must employ at least 1 fastener per 1000mm2 of skid
area. c) If used to attach a skid to the car, the team must be able to show by calculation that the shanks of the fasteners (which may be no less than 6mm diameter) are the weakest point in the attachment of the skids to the car. d) May use a load spreading washer if required. The total area of the fasteners and any load spreading washers employed with them when
viewed from directly beneath the car must be less than 5000mm2 . The area of any single
fastener plus its load spreading washer may not exceed 500mm2 . No part of any fastener or load spreading washer may be more than 8mm below the reference
plane. For the avoidance of doubt, the skids referred to in 3.13.2 will not be treated as load
spreading washers.

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