Wrapping one's head around what it's like to be a successful Formula One driver is like sussing out how autistic savant Daniel Paul Tammet makes huge number calculations in his head by imagining each number as a landscape painting. It pretty much can't be done.
And so, the discussion on whether or not F1 champ Sebastian Vettel is a particularly special driver — or whether his success is mainly in the car — is one best had at a pub, just before last call and after the bartender's hidden all the darts. Still, it's interesting to consider, in a context most people can understand, the amount of information passing through an F1 driver's brain, while he's, you know, driving. That's something Piloter has done pretty well in his comment. First he quotes the article, then gets to it.
"But can you think about your tires while you're driving that one lap? Can you think about the entire car and pick up details about the way it behaves that can be used by the engineers as feedback to develop car? Can you do this in a race? Can you do it in a race where the pressure is on you to perform? Can you think about your fuel load while you're doing that? Can you do it for an hour and a half? Can you do it in the rain? Can you do it on a track which is half wet, half dry? Can you do it on a day where you don't particularly feel like doing anything?"
You know, ADHD really is a marvelous thing. The drone of even the best driving music starts to wear thin after a while, so just turn it off, concentrate on what your senses and your knowledge are telling you, be your own diagnostic computer. Visualize contact patches and suspension deformation, sensing a roughness or vibration and knowing whether it's a slightly unbalanced wheel or a complaining CV axle or a dirty TPS or a weak spark event or a surface irregularity or debris, feeling which tires are off and having a decent guess of the PSI involved, checking your mirrors (although the First Rule of Italian Driving often applies) and looking to your line and your lane, doing your speed-distance averages on the fly, with a mind toward probable police hiding spots and increased speed versus increased fuel consumption versus when you said you'd be there to your friends versus type of driving and remember when the revs have been above the revs for that average so far. Don't forget prediction of traction and sight lines based on both the road ahead of you and GPS data about the curve you can't see the exit of, and leaving room in your envelope-pushing for unexpected losses of traction due to pavement issues, sudden camber changes, FOD on the asphalt, or organic interferences (deer, a sneeze), etc etc. Being aware of just about every system on the car simultaneously.
The radio? Who's got time?
I find the downside to this approach is that I also forget most of the fun trips (although I have a blast at the time), because I fill my mind so completely with calculations and sheer all-senses all-limbs involvement that there's no buffer for writing out to long-term memory. A straight highway, cruise control at the precise limit, and 700 miles to the jobsite...that's a recipe for nightmare boredom. And, fortunately, the tedium also passes lightly over long-term memory.
Could I do that at F1 speeds, christ no, I'd dislocate my shoulders trying to steer and by the time I had the experience to get up to that level of velocity (or at least enough so not to get lapped by the rest of the field) I'd start getting either complacent or aggressive, both of which would end very, very youtube-worthy badly. I admire the hell out of the guys who can do that at that kind of overclocked speed...but the mindset of total awareness isn't limited to race drivers.
By the way, Tammet can recite pi to 22,514 digits. It takes him a little over five hours.