Opinion: Why F1 should embrace nostalgia with throwback races

Everyone knows Formula 1 was better in the good old days. Of course it was – although exactly when those days were likely depends on when you first became a fan. That’s nostalgia for you. In truth, the F1 of whichever era you look back on most fondly probably wasn’t quite as good as you remember.

Still, F1 fans are often prone to nostalgia, in part because the sport itself is fixated on the future. Most sports remain the same in essence for decades, but F1 is forever evolving, due to a never-ceasing drive to push the limits of technology. And that creates a disconnect between long-time fans and the contemporary sport.

With 2020 marking 70 years of the F1 World Championship, the sport’s bosses have been nodding to the past: the TV intro features loads of archive footage and there was even a 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. But I have a really simple idea to really engage with nostalgic fans: we need a throwback race.

Full disclosure: this isn’t my idea. I’ve stolen it from Nascar, another category that has struggled to hold onto its fans as it has evolved over the years.

For each of the past five years, Nascar has run the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway as the Throwback Weekend. The storied event was first held in 1950, and the old-school oval is a favourite of drivers and long-time fans.

Each year has featured a different theme, with the cars painted in special liveries that reflect it – often requiring sponsors to agree to their logos appearing in completely off-brand colour schemes. But as the tradition has grown, most sponsors have embraced it.

Past years have celebrated the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. For this Sunday’s Southern 500, the theme is champions, and there are some cracking liveries. My favourite is the scheme that Austin Dillon is running, reflecting one used by the legendary Junior Johnson (who never won a title as a driver but did as a team owner).

Elsewhere, Hendrick Motorsports’ four cars pay tribute to seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson in his final full season. Johnson’s team-mates are running liveries from his career, while his car celebrates fellow seven-timers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Predictably, the Throwback Weekend has proved to be a huge success – and I think F1 should copy it. While you wouldn’t want teams changing liveries every week (as they do in Nascar), a once-a-year retro grand prix would surely be a hit. Mercedes – which is using its livery this year to highlight racism – could run a scheme reflecting Juan Manuel Fangio’s 1950s W196. How about George Russell driving a Williams painted to reflect fellow battling Brit Nigel Mansell’s 1992 title winner? Red Bull could even go back to its roots as Stewart and break out some tartan…

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