A polarising decision has been made to abolish the long-standing tradition of ‘grid girls’ from Formula 1. Sean Bratches, Managing Director at Commercial Operations at Formula 1, made the announcement on January 31st, causing a huge split in opinion with fans.
The move comes just days after the Professional Darts Corporation banned ‘walk-on girls’ from the sport. The practice of models escorting male darts players on to the stage is similar to the role of grid girls in F1. After women’s rights activists pressurised sports organisations to reconsider the place of women in their sport, it seems Formula 1 has decided to follow suit with darts. The question is should this radical change be celebrated by fans worldwide, or is this a step too far for political correctness in 2018?
Bratches explained: “While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 Grands Prix for decades, 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 its fans, old and new, across the world.”
The recent announcement has caused quite a stir online, with now former grid girls almost unanimously responding negatively. British model and former Grid Girl, Rebecca Cooper, had this to say on Twitter: “F1 gridgirls have been banned. Ridiculous that women who say they are “fighting for women’s rights” are saying what others should and shouldn’t do, stopping us from doing a job we love and are proud to do.” While some may praise this move to develop the motorsport, these women are now either unemployed or have lost a significant percentage of their income.
The tradition of having smartly dressed female models escort the drivers and advertise their brands is arguably quite backwards today. We are living in a world where women’s rights is still a very contentious issue. Yet, while there is an objective reality to the issue of how women are employed in our wider society, one’s opinion on the portrayal of grid girls is entirely subjective. It could be argued that with recent revelations from the ‘#metoo’ campaign redefining how we view men and women in our society, there is a jump from organisations to fit in with this politically correct culture in fear of backlash. Unfortunately for F1, there seems to be a backlash for entirely different reasons.
The BBC held a poll in December 2017, asking fans whether grid girls should be part of Formula 1, with 60% saying that they should be. This survey seems somewhat underwhelming considering the magnitude of the decision made. For those that agree with the decision, there is ample justification for it, but when one takes into account the women directly involved and their livelihoods, rather than how these women should be portrayed, the lines between just and unjust become blurred.
Charlotte Gash, a part time grid girl spoke to BBC Radio 5 live: “It’s upsetting and I’m rather disgusted that F1 have given in to the minority to be politically correct. I’m one of the lucky ones that I don’t rely on this as a main source of income, but there are girls out there who do.” Whether you agree with the decision to ban grid girls from the sport or not, it is quite clear that the models themselves are not happy at all, demanding us to question the necessity of the controversial call.
One could easily mistake grid girls as women who dress fancy and stand in front of the cars, looking good for the fans and drivers, this is a far cry from the truth. There is a rigorous selection process with a very high demand, meaning only the most qualified women will get the job. They act as a medium for sponsors to advertise their brands on the grid and are usually required to speak several languages, acting as translators between people from various countries.
Caroline Hall is another former grid girl who also spoke to the BBC, calling for a reform of the role rather than a complete abolishment: “I think it’s sad they’ve taken such extreme measures so quickly. I think they could have looked at ways of bringing the role more into line with modern times instead of scrapping it entirely. They could have looked at making it more equal between the sexes in the role.” It’s doubtful that Formula 1 will backtrack the decision, but one can only hope that more models in the sporting industry don’t lose their jobs as a result of what seems to be a growing movement of political correctness.
Personally, I am totally in favour of a reform for how women are seen in Formula 1, but I strongly believe it is the wrong decision to remove the models from their jobs. Through a radical reform of the grid girls’ image and role, and a balancing of genders in the job, it would solve the issue plaguing the sport. It is quite unfortunate that the decision was made to abolish rather than reform, these women have lost their jobs for unnecessary reasons. A call for reform is needed in Formula 1 and across motorsports globally. It seems abolishment has only sorted one problem and created another.