Formula One organizers announced that “grid kids” will be used this season, replacing the practice of using female promotional models on the starting grid of the races. What will happen later this year at the Macau Grand Prix, an event sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), where the presence of barely dressed female models at the starting grid and the paddock has been prominent, remains unknown.
In a joint statement issued by Formula 1 and FIA, it is mentioned that the “grid kids” will replace the female models in a bid to make the pre-race ceremony “more relevant and interesting” particularly to the younger audience.
The “grid kids” scheme will come into effect at the F1 season’s opening race in Melbourne next month, and would apply to support events at Grand Prix and F1 – an initiative that is part of Liberty Media’s revamp of world championship.
The kids will be chosen by their motorsport clubs on merit, or by lottery, and will already be competing in karting or junior formulae.
The lucky few will then be able to accompany and stand alongside the world’s 20 best competitive drivers on the grid as they prepare for the race, according to the statement cited on the Formula 1 website.
FIA president Jean Todt said, “Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motor sport and the dream of every young racer competing in the junior series that makes up the FIA’s single-seater pyramid, from karting all the way to F1.”
“For the wider FIA, this is an excellent initiative that provides additional support to our member National Sporting Authorities (ASNs), who in their efforts want to grow motorsport worldwide through a unique reward provided to youngsters participating in their national series.”
Meanwhile, F1 commercial chief Sean Bratches noted that using grid girls no longer fits in with the new brand image that the group wants for grand prix racing.
“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,” he said.
“We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world.”
Grid girls have been employed in motorsports for decades to conduct promotions. Macau is no exception. But what will happen now that the FIA has taken a new stance on the matter?
In a reply to the Times, the Sports Bureau (ID) said that the Macau Grand Prix Organizing Committee is aware of the changes in terms of arrangements yet revealed that it has no plans to adopt the new measure.
“At the moment, we do not have any plans to cancel or replace the use of ‘grid girls’ and we are focused on working on the overall arrangements and organization of this year’s event,” it said.
“We will make an announcement in due course on the details of this year’s Macau Grand Prix,” the bureau added.
The president of the Guia Circuit for Promotion and Development Association (APDCGM), José Luis Estorninho, described it as an interesting move as FIA is giving the race a different image compared to how it was portrayed in the past.
Yet, Estorninho remarked that the move is not relevant to the race itself, noting that the promotion of the season will not affect the race.
“This change, whether they’re going to do it in Macau or not, it’s not going to affect the race. It’s more of a promotion of the organization with a different point of view,” he told the Times.
“As a fan of the race, it’s not so relevant, whether they’re going to have grid kids or grid girls, it’s not going to affect the race, maybe just the ambience or the atmosphere.”
He also noted that the move could also be applied to Macau since the region’s annual Grand Prix is subject to FIA rules.
“What is relevant is the race itself and the image that the organizers want to promote. In this case, it’s going to be very interesting. I can see that this idea can be successful also.”
Following the joint announcement there has been some backlash; specifically, former grid models are criticizing the move.
Although there have been suggestions that removing the glamour of paddock girls and grid girls would help change the perception of women in sport, some say that there is no correlation between the two.
Veteran Niki Lauda, an Austrian former Formula One driver and a three-time F1 World Drivers’ Champion, voiced his opinion that the move does not favor the women who have worked as grid girls.
“Grid girls have always belonged in F1, and they should continue to belong in F1,” he said, as cited in several reports.
“Women are stepping up [into senior roles], and they are doing it very well – it is moving in the right direction. But one does not exclude the other. I don’t want to hold women back – I want to encourage them,” he added.