It’s 2017. Motorsport has come a long way from its origins, nearly a century ago. Deaths are a rare, tragic event rather than an accepted part of life on the track. Motorsport has spread from its homeland of Europe across the globe, with F1 visiting 13 non-European countries in 2016. Regenerative braking, electrical energy boosts, movable wings, everything has moved on with the times. It doesn’t look like the 60s anymore. That is until the grid girls come out.
Articles on the subject are often nothing more than a chance to show yet more pictures of these scantily clad models. MotoGP and DTM are among many series to feature grid girl sections in their online galleries, giving them equal importance to the pictures of the drivers and cars. Of course motorsport isn’t the only place where these customs still exist. Cycling and boxing have their own versions of these dressed up smiling girls. But why does this seemingly sexist practice still exist? At the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix they used male models to hold the car numbers and during a press conference Sebastian Vettel joked ‘What’s the point?’. If drivers, with all their mechanics pointing the way and an engineer shouting instructions in their ear, can find their way to the grid without the help of a very good looking male model then why do they cling so desperately to their female counterpart?
So why do most series continue to use grid girls? The arguments usually go along the lines that it’s traditional and adds glamour to the occasion. So a Formula One race, a multibillion pound event, showcasing the fastest cars in the world, crawling with the country’s rich and famous isn’t glamorous enough without an underdressed girl stood in front of each car to admire? Some British Touring Car Championship grid girls have said that it is a good opportunity for women to get involved in motorsport. This points again to the deeper problem that grid girls are both a cause and a result of.
Grid girls give the impression that the only way women can get involved and validated in the world of motorsport is by looking beautiful for powerful men and clapping their achievements. It gives out a very strong message about motorsport’s attitude to gender and it isn’t one of equality. These young women suggest to the casual motorsport viewer, as well as young impressionable girls considering a career in it, that motorsport is sexist and objectifies women and they are only good for men to look at before the real action begins. It suggests that motorsport is an activity by men, for men and the continued use of grid girls in FIA events completely contradicts the work of their Women in Motorsport commission. Their mission is to ‘show that the sport is open to women in all aspects of the sport’, not just the standing around in bikinis aspect.
Nevertheless, things are beginning to slowly change. The World Endurance Championship scrapped the use of grid girls at the start of the 2015 season and Australian V8 supercars for the start of 2016, citing its negative impact on body image. Unfortunately other series aren’t appearing eager to follow suit and some drivers lashed out at the WEC, beginning a social media campaign to save the grid girls and wanting a return to the 1970’s style women. Moto3 rider Ana Carrasco arrived at the grid with a male model in 2015 and it was seen as a joke. However this is no more outlandish than the idea that all the male drivers need a female model holding their umbrella. With the roles reversed, it highlights how outdated and sexist the practice really is. In a time when motorsport is trying to expand into new audiences and the biggest area for this is women, it is unthinkable that they are being portrayed as only fit to be part of the scenery.
To really increase female participation in motorsport women need genuine validation as being worth just as much as all the men. But the problem is circular. Grid girls suggest to women that they are not accepted in motorsport, and the lack of female involvement creates a male orientated environment supportive of grid girls. Whenever motorsport embraces the progression of female liberation, the problem is more than grid girl deep.