One year after Liberty Media completed their acquisition of F1, they have chosen to replace ‘grid girls’ with ‘grid kids’.
Liberty Media’s decision has been both applauded for its alignment with modern society and criticised for its removal of an F1 tradition. ‘Grid girls’ have been a long-standing tradition in the sport as a way to bolster the atmosphere of the crowds and drivers while also providing a chance to create revenue through brand sponsorship. With a viewership and fan base that has been historically male-dominated, the use of female models on the grid were seen as an appropriate way to entertain the fans and drivers.
However, in recent years, the use of ‘grid girls’ has been criticised as outdated and objectifying women. Therefore, it came as no surprise to some that under the new management of Liberty Media ‘grid girls’ are being replaced as an attempt to reinvigorate support for the sport. Sean Bratches, managing director of commercial operations, said: “We feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms.”
The decision to replace ‘grid girls’ is also a move by F1 to try to attract women to other roles within the industry, as the negative press towards ‘grid girls’ has previously overshadowed the involvement of women in other areas of the motorsport. Claire Williams, the lone female team chief, has vocalised her support for the change. She stated it “is not going to change overnight the lack of female representation in motorsport,” but that it is the right move forward. She commanded that the sport should showcase “the successful women in the sport and make role models out of them to inspire others.” The hope is that this will “increase the talent pool of girls and women entering the sport.”
However, Susie Wolff, a former Williams F1 test driver, stated that there are more relevant matters in regard to the involvement of women in F1 than the replacing ‘grid girls’. Instead, the removal of ‘grid girls’ is a publicity stunt to hide the lack of real commitment to increasing amount of women in the sport. Liberty Media’s attempt to encourage and empower women in the industry has rather resulted in further damage to the reputation of ‘grid girls’ that have ensured the sport was enjoyable for fans and drivers.
In a BBC Radio 5 Live interview, previous ‘grid girls’ gave their views. Charlotte Gash said she was “disgusted” by the changes as it meant that F1 bosses have “given in to the minority to be politically correct” without thinking about the welfare of the ‘grid girls’ themselves.
When the 2018 F1 season officially starts in March with the Australian Grand Prix, the plan is to use talented, young racing drivers from karting and junior competitions in place of the models. The hope is ‘grid kids’ will have more relevance to the sport in future years and also be an interest to fans.