Formula One announced yesterday that it is putting an end – with immediate effect – to the pre-race ‘grid girl’ parade. Up until now, provocatively dressed models were used to mark a driver’s spot on the starting grid before every Grand Prix race. The practice has been around for decades and became normalised as an integral part of the sport, like cheerleaders at American football games, boxing’s ‘ring girls’ and victory Champagne showers at the end of races.
But as brands, public figures, organisations and now sports are starting to be held accountable when they remain tone deaf to or actively display social, racial or gender insensitivity, change (no matter how small) has become necessary. The sport’s commercial manager Sean Bratches echoed these sentiments, saying, ‘While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula One Grand Prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern-day societal norms.’ Bratches added that they ‘don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula One and its fans, old and new, across the world.’
Formula One’s decision to do away with the objectification of models happens at a time when the culture was bound to be called out. After all, it’s not too long ago (2015) that Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton caused an uproar with his sexist Champagne celebration, when he sprayed a visibly uncomfortable hostess in the face with a magnum of bubbly.
Grid girls aren’t always barely dressed, and at times their costumes have even passed as professional attire. However, the scrapping of the tradition isn’t solely based on what these women have been wearing on the grid, but rather the problem of using conventionally attractive women as objects to fuel testosterone and adrenaline before men perform ‘manly’ activities. The Grand Prix has also not seen a woman race driver in the championship since the ’70s, so having ‘grid girls’ was basically sending the message that, as far as F1 was concerned, a woman’s place on the track was solely as a visual treat for the male gaze.
On the positive side, off the race track there are a number of woman engineers, mechanics and team bosses, as well as women in media, marketing and management.
It also appears that, ever since Liberty Media’s takeover last year, Formula One is working towards making the pre-race show on the track just as respectful to women, as the focus is now aimed at being about entertainment, promotion and celebration, reports Times Live.
Watch below if you’re unfamiliar with the grid girls phenomenon (it’s about Moto GP, but you get the idea):