The Abolition of F1 Grid Girls: Not Feminism nor Equality

Grid girls on the drivers parade. Stylishly conservative and seemingly happy.

To be honest I didn’t want to write anything about what has become one of the biggest and most polarising issues surrounding Formula One of late. New engines, new regulations, new initiatives to help fans understand the sport better, new innovations perchance that make the racing better? Ferrari leaving the sport and Ssangyong joining perhaps?

Nope, none of that.
Grid girls with driver number boards.

The biggest talking point around the sport for years is all to do with girls holding cardboard signs (or perhaps those signs are a composite of carbon fibre or other advanced polymer matrix composites – this is, after all, Formula 1) on the end of a stick to indicate where a car should be positioned on the grid.

Opinions come from the sports world, the political world, fans and activists. From women’s rights and feminist organisations to the ramblings of blustering and harrumphing sad old men. From Formula One bosses, past and present, World Champions past and present, Formula One team owners, even my next door neighbours.

Everybody has an opinion. Everybody too has a choice and I applaud those people who say they won’t or don’t watch Formula 1 and other sports because of the promo girls. Well done. They are doing exactly what I think they should do and choose not to watch.

If you don’t like something then don’t do it. That is an individual’s absolute right.

On the other hand, most people like me, do not let that bother them and continue to watch with hardly a noticeable twitch at those people, most usually females holding the signs.

Grid girls on the drivers parade. Stylishly conservative and seemingly happy.

Forgive me here because apparently the word ‘female’ as with words like ‘girls’ and even ‘women’ could now apparently be considered ‘sexist’, so I shall refer to this particular occupation as a ‘grid person’.

I fail to see why Formula 1 grid persons, darts persons or any other persons doing that form of work should now be the target of what seems to be a small minority of people who are now seemingly offended enough to encourage their employers to dismiss them and to disestablish their positions. This tiny minority of people are actually offended so much and to a point that they insist on imposing their will on others who they now consider as being ‘exploited’.

I have never yet met any of the ‘persons’ who have been forced to do the job. I have never met any of them who are doing the job with anything less than enthusiasm and simply pleased to be there.

It is a job.

A contracted, paying, fully clad employment that often leads on to other highly paid work, and now that high profile job is being taken away from them because, it seems, the will of a minority demands it.

Driver wives acting as official timekeepers back in the good old days.

They are suffering because of the sensitivities of others who have an “I don’t like it so you must not do it” attitude.

I am not sure I understand how a person who applies to do a job, gets paid for the job, enjoys doing the job and wants to carry on doing that job can possibly be considered as being ‘exploited’.

If, in Formula 1, it was the natural order of things, like the disappearance of gear levers, fat tyres, cork helmets and sewing patches on overalls (usually a task that the ‘persons’ who partnered the ‘persons’ actually driving the racing cars did) and all the other things that have been lost in the mists of time, I could understand it.

If there is a better or more efficient, or even more technically informative alternative then I could understand it.

Things change.

But then it seems as if the removal of these board holding persons, and presumably that will include any persons of the opposite gender, is being trumpeted as a victory for feminism and to hell with the rights of the women themselves. A possible natural progression has been leapt on as being a win for ‘feminism’.

Grid Girls showing national pride with custom dress in Austria.

Wonderful that, and another case of the vocal minority demanding that their own moral, or political stance be the only right one, thereby in this instance supporting and encouraging the loss of a legitimate occupation and income for others.

Shouldn’t these same people be standing up for the rights of these persons for self-determination? Incidentally that phrase is defined as “the process by which a person controls their own life”.

According to the owners of Formula One “We feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms. We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and it’s fans, old and new, across the world.”

Happy grid girls. Certainly not being forced to do the job.

I am not sure just what that means in an industry that oozes glamour with private jets and excess aplenty with participants who trumpet to the world lifestyles that surely cannot reflect those same ‘brand values’. Not to mention the ‘brand values’ of having events in those hotbeds of progressive and independent thought like China, Russia, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

Formula ‘E’ have had children involved as ‘grid kids’ at the beginning of their events, as they do in Soccer. So how long will it be before somebody cries “child exploitation”?

What a sad world we live in.

I shall leave the last words to the British Touring Car Championship’s Speedworks Motorsport co-owner Amy Dick explaining the role of their own grid person at a BTCC meeting. A job she says is more than just wearing Lycra and standing in front of the team’s Toyota Avensis:

“Having a beautiful girl in an equally striking outfit in front of our car creates added attention, glamour and exposure for our customers and sponsors alike. There is nothing seedy, exploitive or sexist about it, the girls work for us very much on their own terms and have input into what they are going to wear and how they promote the team.

Grid girls are marketing the sport’s partners.

“Our grid girls are independent business women: When they are working for us they are brand ambassadors who have the responsibility of representing our team, driver and the brands involved.

“They are commercially savvy through social media, on-event hosting etc. In fact they become an integral part of the promotional team as a whole throughout the season on and off the grid.”

Enough said and enough of the social comment.

So now this brave new world of Formula One has come up with a boxing commentator introducing the drivers, extra sponsor advertising space on the cars, the removal of grid persons, a tweak to the timing schedule of the races, but nothing, as far as I can see, that will help the actual racing.

Perhaps there is some connection to the news of last week that Formula 1 revenue for 2017 fell by some US$13 million.

If you don’t have a product that people will buy and your core product is ‘racing’ then people will not buy it.

Simple really.

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Bob McMurray has had a long relationship with motor sport – especially Formula 1.  He spent over thirty years with the McLaren Formula 1 team and then many years as a commentator on TVNZ ONE . He is also regularly called upon to contribute to various TV and radio stations as the ‘expert comments’ person. For three years he was the CEO of A1 Grand Prix Team New Zealand. Bob is also a Director of two sports marketing companies. In 2006 Bob was awarded the ‘Motorsport Personality of the Year’ award and in 2007 the ‘Motor Trades Association Award for Contribution to Industry. He has also the subject of a successful and well-received book about life in Formula 1.   Bob was the presenter of the many Indy 500 shows produced for TVNZ One, as well as co producing and presenting the ‘Kiwis and Characters’ TV series.  He is currently the co-host of ‘The Driven Hour’ weekly radio show on Radio Sport, a columnist for the ‘New Zealand Herald’ and ‘Driven’ supplement, a Trustee of the MSNZ Scholarship Trust / Elite Academy and a Trustee of the ‘Kiwi Driver Fund’, a new initiative that aims to help aspiring New Zealand race drivers contest the Toyota Racing Series as well as being a regular F1 GP tour ‘host’, most recently at the 2017 Singapore and Malaysian Formula 1 Grands Prix. Very much still connected to F1, Bob gives Pit Talk Asia and exclusive look behind the scenes of the pinnacle of motorsport.