With Liberty’s decision to axe grid girls in 2018, the Formula One community is in an uproar. But is the choice really that bad?
News broke on Wednesday that Formula One has decided to drop grid girls from its 2018 season – a decision that has been met with equal amounts of admiration and frustration. Abuse has been hurled from both sides, and quite frankly as a motorsport family, we should be ashamed at how some people have treated each other over this. So, I will endeavour to make this a well-reasoned feature, offering my own opinions on each side and what I think are some things that could solve some of the problems presented by this decision – and if you want to refer to me in some derogatory term, please at least read this thoroughly first.
My opinion places me firmly in the ‘no grid girls’ camp. As a young girl, I experienced the ‘you’re weird. You’re a girl; you can’t like cars’ thing. Then, when I frequented race tracks as I got a bit older, I found myself thinking ‘I’ll never be able to work in this sport, I’m not pretty enough.’ Nobody should be made to feel bad for what they like, nor should they feel that their aesthetics mean they can’t work in an industry and while this is not exactly the fault of grid girls, in this case, they certainly don’t help the problem. Gender shouldn’t matter when it comes to getting a job, but as human beings, we’re programmed to discriminate – to choose what we feel is the strongest for a specific role, it’s how our species has continued to survive. However, it’s 2018, we’ve continued to evolve and should be beyond this. The FIA World Endurance Championship and FIA Formula E are getting on fine without grid girls, so Formula One will cope. Finally, a lot of people are saying that grumpy women (or whatever more unpleasant term they wish to use) want to see these girls lose their jobs just because and that is not true. The question here is not about the girls themselves, but the validity of the role they’ve signed up for and the effect it has on other women in or trying to get into the sport. If a role is no longer required by a company, the management won’t keep it because it’s cool or it’s been around a long time. That’s just how business works.
This point has repeatedly been made and made more eloquently than this, so I won’t dwell on it, plus it is merely my opinion.
The other side of this argument stems from tradition, discrimination and people losing their jobs. First of all, traditions can change, there’s all kinds of bizarre stuff that people used to do in history that we wouldn’t even dream of today. Times change, traditions change too. As for discrimination, the role was inherently discriminatory anyway. Unless you fit an arbitrary description of beauty, you’d never be able to be a grid girl. And just forget it if you were a guy – that was trialled in Monaco in 2015, and it went down like a lead balloon.
People losing their jobs, however, I can understand, this one is a bit more serious. Women all over the world apply for these positions as a route into modelling and for this avenue of potential income to dry up is unfortunate – it would perhaps be better to offer the job to both men and women? Equal opportunity and all that. Or if you desperately want to keep modelling in F1, how about actually giving them more of a purpose that goes beyond simply being eye candy? Let me elaborate.
Formula One is supposed to be one of motorsport’s most luxurious brands right? They’re a global presence, and countries use the Grand Prix to promote themselves and try to drive tourism. Surely there must be a way to combine models, branding and tourism? Well, I think I’ve come up with one. For each race, or perhaps for a select few during the season, local fashion designers could collaborate with Formula One to produce collections that promote the sport and the locations it visits. Then at some point during the weekend, there is a fashion show. This might sound a bit daft, but hear me out – the Amber Lounge in Monaco already run one, so it’s not entirely far-fetched.
Formula One could use this new event to attract new sponsors that may not have been interested in the industry before, on that same note, it could allow the sport to break into a potentially untapped fan base. It would enable the country hosting the event to promote themselves in a new and potentially innovative way; both parties could make money from merchandising said collections. Oh, and the girls still get to model. You could even open it up to guys. Imagine that. Plus, it could also allow people that may not have the necessary skills to work in F1 directly, to be a part of their favourite sport in a whole new way. Heck, while we’re at it, you could even do some shows for charity you know?
So let’s recap. Fans get specially designed merchandise that changes race-on-race, year-on-year. Formula One potentially hits an all-new fan base, can entice new sponsors and break into new industries. Modelling in F1 is still a thing. And this can probably raise some money for charity. I see no downsides here.
And if you absolutely must have someone stood on the grid with a board, then why not open it up to fans. At each race, there is a ballot. Fans enter their names for an opportunity to be on the grid with their favourite driver. Imagine a young person, aspiring to work in F1, being on the grid with their hero – the joy on their face. It’s an experience I and many others would have loved to have had. (To be fair I still get excited when I’m allowed on a grid.) The British Touring Car Championship is already changing its rules so that it’s up to the team to choose who holds their boards – so fans may yet get the opportunity!
These are just ideas I’ve come up with in a night. There probably are ways and means for grid girls to still be in Formula One without being things just to be looked at. Jennie Gow spoke to a couple of girls and found them inspirational when given a voice. If you’re going to have them, make them part of something bigger, give them a purpose.
The decision to axe grid girls may appear controversial, but once the furore has quietened down, it should prompt something much needed – dialogue. There are a lot of things that need addressing in Formula One, and sexism is one of them. To some this may be a knee-jerk reaction, or ‘political correctness gone mad’, but it doesn’t have to be. Someone just needs to think outside the box a little bit; we can all exist in this sport together.