At this year’s United States Grand Prix the new commercial rights holders of Formula One, Liberty Media, tried a little experiment. To spice up “The Show” they got Michael Buffer, the “legendary boxing announcer”, to act as MC for the driver introductions. He was escorted into position by a pair of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders while others acted as a “guard of honour” as the drivers made their entries.
This was Liberty “trying something”. The use of Buffer didn’t go down a storm in hindsight, but no one mentioned the cheerleaders. That’s because they’re cheerleaders, not grid girls, or pit babes, or even brolly dollies. Cheerleaders are iconic, particularly those of the Cowboys. It’s a competitive business, cheerleading. You need personality and athletic ability, and if you’ve got both in abundance you get to wear an outfit that would guarantee a walk-on part in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
So cheerleaders are good. Grid girls? Not so much. Liberty have said that the future of grid girls is “under strong review” and the whole #gridgirl debate has flared up again. Lots of people object to grid girls because all they do is “stand there”. It’s true, all they do is stand holding a giant plastic lollipop that shows where drivers are on the grid. And since there are cameras about a sponsor might as well slap a logo on their outfits. It’s good branding and probably pays the girls’ wages.
But if grid girls aren’t very 21st Century and Liberty want to get rid of them then they should. After all, anybody can hold a plastic lollipop. But why encourage a debate about it, because where do you stop?
Those girls that line the corridor to the drivers’ room are surplus to requirements, and if the sexism police come for them they might as well get rid of the young women on the podium at the same time. Then they should have a word with the people responsible for their own global television feed who focus on attractive young women when the racing gets a little dull. Unless they are sipping champagne or texting friends, those girls are just standing there.
Thankfully there are more and more women working in F1, particularly on the engineering side, but those stories don’t get told enough. The most active we see a woman being is dressed up in team kit and holding a dictaphone in the drivers pen. And it is pretty clear that, even if you are armed with a first-class degree in marketing communications, you need above-average looks to get a job in Ferrari’s PR department.
So F1 has drawn attention to a problem that needs addressing, but not compared to some of the real issues it faces, such as a poor core product.
If Liberty want to get rid of grid girls they should as it’s about time F1 marched to a more enlightened beat. Let’s just hope that they don’t choose to use cheerleaders instead.