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OPINION: F1 Grid Girls have to go

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On balance, Liberty Media’s acquisition of Formula 1 has been exactly what the sport needed. The key word is accessibility. F1 fans are a devout bunch. Despite the McLaren spying, Ferrari staged finishes and endless rumours of the Championship’s termination the supporters march on, unable to walk out on the sport they still hold so dear.

But under Bernie Ecclestone, though the F1 faithful didn’t diminish, it certainly wasn’t growing. Then in came Liberty Media who, among other things, revitalised the sport’s online presence.

Want to watch highlights of any Grand Prix in the last five years? Sure. It’s now on the Formula 1 Youtube channel.

Liberty Media has made F1 accessible, especially targeting younger viewers. The sport is growing again, having been dragged into the 21st century. But one issue remains unresolved... when it comes to Grid Girls Liberty Media have done very little.

Grid girls are models used to conduct certain promotional tasks, usually wearing clothing that bears the name of a sponsor. Among their duties in F1 are holding umbrellas or driver name-boards on the grid, and lining the corridor through which the drivers walk on their way to the podium.

Female models have been associated with Motorsport since the 1960s but surely, traditional or not, using women as “decorative additions” to sporting events is demeaning and sexist. The practice embodies two damaging fallacies: that women exist only for the gratification of men, and that motor racing needs the allure of attractive women as part of its appeal.

Silverstone managing director Stuart Pringle told BBC Radio 5 live’s Grid Girls programme, he believes it is “outdated”, adding: “Lycra can stay in the 1970s and 80s for me, I don't want any of that tarty nonsense."

“Our fans and spectators and customers come to Silverstone and think that because it's happening at Silverstone it must be Silvertone’s decision as they think quite a lot of it is down to us, when remarkably little is, on occasion.

“There is a perception that this is Silverstone’s view, but actually we think it's an egalitarian world and I don’t want my daughter growing up thinking that lycra is what she ought to aspire to.”

Grid Girls are not exclusive to Motorsport with female models being deployed similarly in Boxing and Cycling. The excuse of a need to glamourise these sports with “eye candy” is farcical, it depicts a world where men are the sports stars and women are merely the sex appeal smiling beside them.

Sociology professor Karen Farquharson told the Daily Telegraph: “It sends the message that it’s okay for women to be decorative and have sideline positions with no power or input. That’s not okay.”

Grid girls were discarded from the World Endurance Championship in 2015 and Australia’s V8 Supercars Championship in 2016, while ‘grid guys’ were introduced for the Monaco Grand Prix in 2015.  

But a recent poll conducted by the BBC showed that 60% of fans believed Grid Girls should be part of Formula 1. Disappointingly the drivers also seem to be in favour of the practice, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo said "It's kind of like part of the attraction of the sport, fast cars and fast girls.

"I just think the grid girls has always been a nice little cool thing for everyone. So yeah, I would like to keep them. Let's keep them!"

Renault's Nico Hulkenberg, a man particularly sensitive to aesthetics in F1 as his negative comments on the Halo safety device attest, agreed with his fellow driver, "It would be a pity if they took the eye-jewellery from the grid," he said. "What will come next year instead? Halo? Oh dear..."

Grid Girls are misogynistic, their presence sends out a very dated message about gender roles and is something that desperately needs to be replaced. “Oh dear” indeed Nico, “Oh dear.”

Image from - Wikimedia Commons

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