It’s a common sight in motorsport to see women in scantily clad clothing, bearing the logo of a zesty drink, as they promote a new car or pose next to a driver. Post-race they clap the drivers onto the podium after a hard days work, and get caught up in the champagne spray – that’s if Daniel Ricciardo hasn’t already poured it into his shoe.
In their recent shakeup of Formula 1 coverage Liberty Media have elected to get rid of the famed grid girls, describing the move as something that “does not resonate with our brand values” as they looked to make the sport more relevant to its audience. WEC did a similar move a few years back in order to accommodate for its Le Mans-style start procedure, themselves citing the change in “condition of women” as a reason for getting rid of what has long been considered as one of the staples at race meetings. But is this political correctness gone mad or a more progressive stance from a sport looking to modernise its presentation?
Some will be keen to argue the former and how it “puts women out of job” or gives less opportunity to a modelling career. Indeed these people are employed by companies and play a role in the event promotion, the latter viewpoint is more reasonable. I’ve never thought that grid girls offer that much more to the spectacle or the glamour, nor have they been an element of the ‘show’ that is noticeable amidst the busy grid atmosphere at the start of a race.
Think about it, when was the last time you seen this website or other motorsport news sources using images of grid girls in either their online or written publications? Or when was the last time they added anything to the TV coverage? And does getting rid of them make any difference to the racing on track?
If you look at the last few races the sport has drawn more attention from celebrities such as Owen Wilson, Ashton Kutcher, Sir Patrick Stewart, Mumford and Sons, and Venus Williams to name a few. Not to mention the endless nightlife that gets put on throughout race weekends from the Amber Lounge and other sponsor events, Formula 1 will still retain its glamour by being at the forefront of cutting edge technology and entertainment.
Grid girls or models have also had less of a presence at motor shows, the Maxxis Girls being a notable absence from this years Autosport International Show. Brands simply don’t want to associate themselves with a misogynistic overtone, especially as movements like #MeToo and claims being made against sexual harassment of women are a part of our current affairs.
This story is merely child’s play in the context of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, the gender pay gap which the BBC has most recently been at the centre of, and the revelations detailed in ‘The Silence Breakers’ from Time’s person of the year feature. And simply put there are more exciting things happening in Formula 1 and motorsport than getting rid of the famed grid girls; Fernando Alonso’s WEC exploits, the brand new Formula E car which looks about as futuristic as motorsport gets, the advent of streaming platforms making motorsport even more accessible than ever.
Formula 1 doesn’t need to get itself tied up in an argument over gender inequality, especially when there is a notable absence of women racing at top level motorsport. Organisations such as Dare to Be Different setup by former test driver for Williams Susie Wolff, are leading the way in promoting motorsport as a career path for young girls in schools and eliminating grid girls will get rid of stigma that it’s an all mans world.
But will it stop the issues that are a deep part of our current affairs? I think Formula 1 plays a very small role in those however way you frame the story.