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I have never understood clearly how an F1 driver loses pace as they grow old, I understand it has to do with instincts & reflexes getting slower but these drivers do have telemetry data, So Seb for example can look at his previous years' lap & fix any issues consciously so at least in Quali the gap shouldn't be this big or is it a case of despite seeing the data Seb isn't capable of fixing things? Also, does Ferarri (any manufacturer) put Seb in a previous years' car and ask him to go around Fiorano to see if he has got slower?

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    Not totally sure what you're asking. You give the answer in the question: their reflexes get slower (just like anyone's). Are you asking from a biological standpoint what happens in the brain that causes this? – Joe Sep 24 at 19:31
  • I don't think Sebastian Vettel's recent struggles are due to age - he's still "only" 33 - but this is still a valid question. – F1Krazy Sep 24 at 20:13
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    Analysing data in the pits is very much not the same as making split second decisions in response to the cars behaviour while out on track. It is widely understood that people's reaction times are slower as they age and that it's a gradual thing. You're unlikely to find a formula one specific, referenced answer that expands on this. – Greg Sep 24 at 20:43
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I'm going to address the general question of what causes drivers to get slower with age, and not the specific example you mention (that of Vettel).

As Greg noted in the comments, an F1 driver's reflexes will degrade with age, but so will their physical ability to actually drive the car. Formula One cars are incredibly physically demanding to drive, regularly pulling loads of about 5g under braking and during cornering. It's not just the G-forces they need to be able to withstand, either: it takes a force of 125kg (about 350lb) just to operate the brake pedal.

With that in mind, it's no surprise to me that most drivers (with a few outliers) retire from F1 between the ages of 35 and 40. That's in line with most other professional sports, like association football and basketball. Even if a driver's reflexes remain as sharp as ever, there will eventually come a point where their body simply can't take the strain anymore.

It's worth noting that in the early years of the sport, when the physical demands were much different, experience was more important than fitness, and so it was common for drivers to remain competitive at much older ages. Juan Manual Fangio won his final World Championship at the age of 46 - in the process delivering what is widely considered the greatest F1 drive of all time - and Louis Chiron came 6th at the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix at the age of 55.

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  • Upvoted, but I'll disagree here: "... in the early years of the sport, when the cars were slower and less physically demanding..." Those cars were demanding, but in a different way (think about driving a car without power steering and very hard gear sticks). Also, regarding Fangio's age, the problem was not less demanding cars or slower reflexes (which of course happened)... the thing is that, during the pre-F1 era (20s, 30s and 40s) and during the 50s, experience was way more important than physical fitness. That explains why older drivers were better than young ones... – Gerardo Furtado Sep 25 at 9:20
  • (continuing) Then, during the 70s/80s, the balance between experience/physical fitness started to shift towards the latter. – Gerardo Furtado Sep 25 at 9:23
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    I think that's a valid criticism, I've amended that final paragraph slightly. – F1Krazy Sep 25 at 9:25
  • I would also add, that those early cars were extremely dangerous. Experience also helped the driver in finishing and surviving. – Neil Meyer Oct 5 at 7:52

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