Can Formula 1 Just Have Grid Pets Instead?

Whether you watch Formula 1 regularly or not, the scene of the sport’s podium celebrations is legendary. The racers are in their overalls, looking sweat-soaked yet triumphant, as the champagne flies around, the crowd cheers wildly and a bevy of lovely models cheer them on. Come the 2018 season, at least one of these elements will no longer exist — with the FIA officially banning the age-old practice of having grid girls in the sport.
We know that Liberty Media is doing everything it can to make Formula 1 more modern, relevant, social, entertaining and global. Towards this, their decision to do away with the long-standing tradition of using female models as grid markers is hardly surprising. The FIA explained that the tradition was “at odds with modern-day societal norms” and did not resonate with the FIA’s “brand values”.

Replacing the grid girls will be ‘grid kids’ — youngsters who are already in the junior categories of motor racing. Grid kids will have a field day (literally) getting up close and personal with their motorsport heroes, soaking in the inspiration in what will be an experience to remember. Several other sports (football, for example) have a similar concept so it seems to be a tried and tested formula. Formula 1’s Commercial Chief, Sean Bratches said, “This will be an extraordinary moment for these youngsters. What better way to inspire the next generation of Formula 1 heroes.”
We agree: It is likely that these grid kids and their families will value the experience of being in the presence of the sport’s greats more than the grid girls — professional models who probably have little interest in the sport itself. This also directly ties in with Formula 1’s ambition of making itself relevant to younger audiences.
If you’ve been watching races recently, you would have noticed how the camera seems to ‘pick’ children from the audience — how can we forget the adorable young Kimi Raikkonen fan who had us all going ‘aww’ with his reaction to the Finn’s retirement from the race?

Relics of a bygone era?

Frankly, this decision has been coming for a long time. There was immense chatter around it in the paddock after the FIA’s one-off ‘grid boys’ initiative at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2015. While it met with a lot of interest, not everyone was pleased.
Sebastian Vettel famously remarked at the post race press conference, “Why didn’t we have any grid girls today? You get there and park behind George or Dave. What’s the point?”
Jokes aside, grid girls were a leftover relic from a bygone era that have no place in a modern world built on equality and respect. The concept of grid girls reduced women to showpieces and ornaments of beauty. More worryingly, grid girls embodied sex appeal through their provocative clothing, designed to titillate. This was wrong on so many levels!

We had written this post a few seasons ago: Ban The Grid Grils

Apart from taking the moral higher ground, it is likely that F1’s new owners want to distance themselves from any possibility of a scandal. The current global climate is all about powerful men being exposed for their sexual misconduct as #MeToo rages on as the war cry of a generation who have endured enough.

Sir Jackie Stewart alluded to exactly this, saying, “Sometimes it is better to take preventive medicine and that is what Formula 1 is doing. I don’t think it is a shame or a controversial decision and I understand what Liberty are saying. These are different times that we are living in.”
This unfortunately reminds us of the mini-controversy that erupted in 2015 when Lewis Hamilton doused a hostess at the Chinese Grand Prix with champagne — and her pained, unwilling facial expression went viral as a depiction of ‘what was wrong with the sport.’
Of course, not everyone is pleased. Hardcore F1 fans aren’t pleased that the sport they know and love is changing — believing that like the roaring engine sound and ban on refueling, getting rid of the grid girls is akin to doing away with something that is integrally a part of the sport’s identity.
Is the FIA alienating its current viewership base in the process of catering to a new (young) one? Moreover, the grid girls have been up in arms, complaining about their lost livelihood and opportunities. Former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has been a fierce critic and Niki Lauda is against the ban on grid girls too. Speaking to an Austrian newspaper Lauda said, “This is a decision against women. Men have made the decision over the heads of women. This is not doing any favours to F1, and especially not to women. How dumb can someone be? Women have emancipated themselves and do very well at it. So this is a decision against women.” Lauda went on to suggest that the sport could have explored a mix of grid girls and grid boys to even things out.
Not just in Formula 1, but banning the ‘use of women’ seems to be a trend in sporting events around the world. The World Endurance Championship scrapped grid girls at the start of the 2015 season. Days ago, the Professional Darts Corporation announced it would end the practice of “walk-on girls” — provocatively dressed young girls who accompany players to the stage. Kudos to the FIA for taking this brave decision. And we look forward to celebrating all the women in the paddock working in different roles (from mechanics to marshalls) and excelling on the merit of their talent and skill.
Finally, if nothing works, Formula 1 could explore having grid pets! Roscoe and Coco (Lewis Hamilton’s pet dogs) already have a permanent race pass and all they would then need is a grid access pass.

This post was co-written with Mithila Mehta and published on Firstpost

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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