Opinion: Is It Time For Grid Girls To Leave Formula 1?

by Aaron Gillard

Whilst the 2017 Formula 1 season has come to a close, the talks and news in the sport never stops. Teams prepare for the upcoming new season and organisers seek any changes to introduce next year. One of the agendas spoken about over the week has been a common theme, grid girls.

BBC Radio 5 Live reported this week that Formula 1’s new owners said that grid girls are under “strong review” for next year. It’s been an subject spoken about so often about a need for change but often gets pushed back under the carpet until being brought up again. A repeated issue where nothing gets done.

There are two sides of the argument: there are those who believe the system is ‘out dated’ and needs changing, and you get those who believe that it’s part of the ‘tradition’ of Motorsport and that it should stay. A tradition that dates back to the late 1960’s, where Formula 1 started to become more of a commercial sport with the age of sponsors and advertising started to kick in.

Grid girls often have a task to commercially represent their brand and often in most series, hold up banners with the drivers number, flag or umbrellas. Often in the past they would wear clothing representing their brand that would appear questionable now but at the time, this was a normal habit. Photographers in the sport would take photos of them with the drivers, teams or on the grid and use for publishing purposes, promoting the brand and the girls on their sites. Over the year, the girls wear more presentable wear that isn’t revealing but still often get photos taken. It’s very rare nowadays in Motorsport you’ll see men do the same job as girls.

Why is that? The issue is more further than it may think. This isn’t just a problem in Motorsport, but for the whole media and commercial side in the world. It’s often found in the advertising world that women are given stereotypical roles compare to men. Women are given this character too often of being a ‘stay at home’ or a ‘sex symbol’ in most occasions. It sells products. It’s why companies often do this way over the last few decades. But the world is changing in this area with equality now being a vocal focus and more targets to aim to sell, stereotypical roles like these are now starting to die out. It’s where Motorsport needs to catch up and do the same.

Is it out dated? Yes. Why? It’s due to the fact that women talent in Motorsport is growing. Not only in the racing side, there is also the mechanical and journalism side to it. Drivers such as Tatiana Calderon, Jamie Chadwick and Sophia Floersch are rising stars who show that women can beat men on the same field. Amazon Prime’s The Grand Tour has recently announced they’ve hired Abbie Eaton onto the show as their new driver for performance laps.

Susie Wolff and her Dare 2 Be Different campaign has reached out to girls around the UK and Europe to get them into Motorsport. The only trouble is that in schools or colleges, it’s not advertised enough that mechanical engineering is a unisex task, often recognised as a men’s job. An ideal change could increase female interest into taking engineering that could lead on into working into the Motorsport industry. Women in Motorsport are rising in numbers and the interest by girls is increasing. The common quote “It’s a men’s sport” is no more. Just look at Claire Williams from Williams Martini Racing or Ruth Buscombe, Sauber F1 Team‘s race strategist.

So what will Liberty Media do? For the time being the idea of grid girls are under review, meaning they might stay, dropped, replaced or altered. Race organisers haven’t been afraid of experimenting with the topic. At the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix, grid boys replaced the girls but were criticised for it with Scuderia Ferrari‘s Sebastian Vettel jokingly saying after the race “Where were the grid girls for the race?” This year at the Austrian Grand Prix, kids walked with the drivers before the race and got to go on the grid. No doubt a memorable moment for the child.

Whilst some trails has created mixed feedback, there is still argument said by team principals and drivers that removing the grid girls, means removing the glamour of the sport. Glamour, a girl standing in front of a car with a board showing a number?

A few ideas spring to mind about a change. A mixture of boys and girls on the grid, or commonly suggested on social media, and probably a good replacement solution. Get fans to hold the banners, flags, umbrellas etc, be with their favourite drivers moments before lights out. Create a fantastic memory for fans as they see their heroes metres away from entering their trusted machinery. Liberty Media always they want to engage the fans in F1, this is a great way to replace an old tradition if they do decide to drop it.

Is it time for the grid girls to go? Social media sites and many popular figures say yes, others say no. It’s a debate that will continue to be talked about until a possible announcement will be made before lights out for the 2018 Formula 1 Season.

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