The use of ‘grid girls’ in Formula One has become a divisive and controversial issue in recent years, and it’s no surprise why. Some will argue it is traditional and just feminists taking things too far trying to ban them, whilst others will say it’s old-fashioned and objectification of women. Whichever side of the argument you sit on, it’s fair to say that they are not integral to the running of the sport.
This is not to disrespect their choice of job, as it is one that many people wouldn’t envy. Having to wear extremely high heels and deal with rowdy fans must be quite a handful. It is more about making an example of the sport and allowing them to empower and encourage women in all areas of the industry.
Some of the people who choose to be ‘grid girls’ have wanted to do this for a long time and it is their choice to do so. At the end of the day, they are earning a living and as long as they are not being exploited many will argue ‘what harm are they doing?’ This is correct, as long as they feel comfortable should we really be making a fuss on their behalf?
It is believed that ‘grid girls’ first appeared on the F1 grid in the late 1960s as an aid to advertising and sponsorship. According to a CNN article from 2013, their responsibilities are “displaying the race number placards on the grid, clapping the drivers onto the podium, making appearances in VIP suites and taking part in photo sessions with the fans”. In the same article it states that at the US Grand Prix, “the girls are not allowed to talk to the drivers unless they are spoken to first”. I understand they should not be engaging with the drivers when they are trying to ‘get in the zone’ ahead of a race, but why are they being treated like an attraction and that they should be seen and not heard? It’s 2017.
Often it is not the ‘grid girls’ themselves that people object to, but their attire. Over the years their outfits have changed and not always for the better. However, there are rules with circuits under F1 licensing having to follow rules on ‘grid girl outfit design’. What these rules are is very difficult to find, though it would be very interesting to know them.
There have been occasions when the grid has moved with the times. In Monaco 2015, president of the Automobile Club de Monaco, Michel Boeri decided to replace the ‘grid girls’ with ‘grid boys’. Male models were brought in to carry out the duties usually reserved for the girls.
This decision was widely celebrated on social media, though one driver didn’t appear so happy. 4-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel said: “Why didn’t we have any grid girls today?”. “What was that? F—! You get there and park behind George or Dave. What’s the point?”. Well Sebastian, the point is that for the last 40 or so years women have had to stand in front of you and your fellow drivers looking pretty whilst you prepare to show your talent.
Later in the season in Brazil, the organisers decided to follow in Monaco’s footsteps. This time they decided to have half ‘grid girls’ and half ‘grid boys’. However, since this neither chose to repeat it and none of the other Grands Prix chose to also take this step.
But maybe it isn’t the sport itself that is preventing this change. The media continue to pedal articles about the ‘glamourous grid girls’ with newspapers and websites such as MSN publishing articles with headline phrases such as “If fans love anything more than the mean machines on a Formula One racetrack, they are the ‘grid girls’.” Really? The competition, the history, the rivalries and the event itself are only a few of the reasons that fans love watching and attending F1 Grands Prix.
An alternative to ‘grid girls’ but still having someone to carry out their current duties could involve charities. Many of the F1 teams partner with charitable organisations such as Force India with Breast Cancer Care. Each team could invite people involved in their charity to be representatives of the team, and therefore take the place of the ‘grid girls’. This could give a memorable experience for those who have had to fight against diseases or have been through or are going through a particularly tough time and who really deserve it.
However, until things change, it prevents initiatives such as ‘Dare to be Different’ from thriving and really making a difference. To many people it may not seem like a big deal and that it isn’t affecting anyone, but this really isn’t the case.
What is underestimated is the extent to which, whether it be subconscious or not, this affects young girls watching. With society the way it is now with a selfie and Instagram culture, it would be amazing to think that a sport such as Formula One would stand up and be an example. To show everyone should be more aware of these valuable charities could also be a great accolade for the sport to carry.