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Are grid girls making a comeback to Formula One?

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Susan Devaney
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The appearance of grid girls at Formula One racing was banned earlier this year. But, this weekend they will return to the tracks in defiance of the rules set by Liberty Media, sparking talk of a role revival.  

Chatter of a grid girls’ comeback to Formula One has entered conversations, news headlines and social media platforms this week. 

“We’ve had no problems with Liberty Media, except for the grid girl issue,” Michel Boeri, the president of the Automobile Club of Monaco, told Monaco-Matin, a local newspaper. “They’ll be there, on the grid.

“They’re pretty, and the cameras will be on them once again.”

Despite being banned earlier this year, female models will be back on the grid this Sunday (27 May) for race No.6 as organisers in Monaco defy the new rule set by Liberty Media Corporation. While they won’t be appearing in the traditional grid girl capacity, instead representing Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer by taking photos for social media, the move has sparked talk of a role revival. 

The new owners of Formula One initially announced the ban in January, acknowledging that it was “inappropriate” and “at odds with modern day societal norms” in this day and age. Instead, they introduced ‘grid kids’, in a bid to honour young girls and boys who are involved in youth racing.

Now Russia has also chimed in, saying women will make an appearance at its race in September, too. 

“We do not want to give up the girls,” said Sergey Vorobyev, the promoter of the Russian Grand Prix. “They are wonderful. We are developing creative approaches that will allow the girls to remain next to the cars.

“It could be athletes. It could be representatives of the world of Russian art. But my task is to have our girls still going on the starting grid.”

“Showcasing attractive women holding placards before the start of a race is a step backwards for gender equality”

Some well-known racers have also spoken out to support a potential comeback. 

“Women are the most beautiful thing in the world,” said British world champion Lewis Hamilton.

“Monaco is a very elegant grand prix and when we pull up to the grid and there’s beautiful women on the grid, that’s the Monaco Grand Prix and that’s a lovely thing.”

Shortly afterwards, Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel said he “agreed with Lewis”.

“I like women. I think they look beautiful. The bottom line is that there is too much of a fuss nowadays,” Vettel said.

“All the women that took part as a grid girl in the past did it because they want to. I’m sure if you ask any grid girl on Sunday if they’re happy to stand there, their answer will be yes.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that forces them to do it.”

Of course, women are not forced to become grid girls. However, many believe the appearance of female models on the grid is outdated, unwanted and sexist. After the sparking of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up initiative women’s voices are being truly heard, so showcasing attractive women holding placards before the start of a race is only a step backwards.

Sean Bratches, managing director of commercial operations at Formula One, holds this view, backing the removal of grid girls and the introduction of a ‘grid kids’ partnership instead.

“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 norm,” he said.

“We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula One and its fans, old and new, across the world.”

“Now more than ever, attention should be paid to devising ways to get more girls and women into the sport”

Traditionally, grid girls would walk out looking attractive without saying a word, sending the message that men can be daring drivers, while women are simply the ‘trophy girls’ on the side-line.

Lee McKenzie, who has presented for the BBC and C4 at Formula One since 2009, believes some sponsors should also be held accountable for the presentation of female models on the grid.

“Much of the problem was how promoters and sponsors were choosing to dress the models,” McKenzie explains to stylist.co.uk.

“If one race can get away with grid girls it is Monaco, which has been on the calendar since 1950. The association with glitz, glamour and royalty has always meant the girls, and the grid boys, are dressed very stylishly. More so than maybe some of the guests.”

However, McKenzie stresses that Formula One making the first step to banning them in January was necessary and vitally important.

“Recently we have seen sponsor girls at raves and in the paddock - they just aren’t on the grid,” McKenzie explains. “So whilst they might be less visible on the grid that’s not entirely the case in the sporting industry. Other forms of motorsport still use them too – but as the pinnacle of motorsport, it was important for Formula One to take the lead.”

Other male-dominated sports like darts have also phased out their use of walk-on women, proving there is less and less appetite for female sexual objectification in sport.

Now more than ever, attention should be paid to devising ways to get more girls and women into the sport, racing side-by-side with men on the track – not the grid. That would be something we would all tune in to watch come Sunday.

Images: Getty