So that's it -- grid girls are no more. The decision has been made to scrap them for the 2018 Formula One season. Just days after walk-on girls for darts were vetoed it seems that F1 has dragged itself into the 21st century, too.
Of course, the internet is up in arms and people are unhappy with the decision but for me, it's a move toward common sense and common decency. I recently presented and produced a show for BBC Radio 5 Live where we spent an hour debating the future of grid girls and on which the bosses of the sport said the use of grid girls was 'under strong review.' Well, the review has happened and the axe has fallen.
There are many people who say these girls choose to become grid girls and we shouldn't take away their ability to earn money and have a job that exposes them to a lifestyle that otherwise they might not be able to have. Sure, I get that -- but I also believe we are in an important moment in gender equality. Women are not here just to be seen, we are here to be seen and heard and for me that is the most important part of the promo girl debate. We fought to be able to vote, to be able to work, to be able to speak freely -- so let's use that freedom to better the chances of future generations of girls and women.
As a grid girl, a lot of the time, the hours are unsociable. You're in hair and make-up at four in the morning just to be at the race track at a decent time looking all glammed-up. The weather is atrocious for many and the girls are either freezing cold or burning and fainting under the midday sun. They are dressed in what the race organisers or teams deem appropriate and it feels like they are pawns in a very male game.
Give these girls a voice and suddenly I don't have such an issue with their use. Let them become brand ambassadors and not just mute, pretty things to be stared at, but as the girls are currently used they don't have a personality, they don't have any freedom to interact with either the crowds or the stars of the show, the drivers. They are just stood holding a flag pole, looking gorgeous.
Surely we have moved on from women just having to look good to get on in life? Sure it must help to have 36DD's and a waist synched in naturally rather than with spanks and bum lifting leggings but is the message we send out to the next generation really one that says men are the daredevil drivers while women are the trophy girls?
The strangest thing to me about the continued use of grid girls in F1 was the fact that there are so many amazing and inspirational women in the sport. The days of it being a closed shop are over...within the teams it is now a meritocracy -- if you're good enough to do the job you get considered for the job regardless of sex, race or background. There are plenty of women in key roles in the paddock who walk onto the grid every race week because of their engineering skills or their management and leadership abilities. These are the women we should be celebrating and championing, not the scantily clad images of 1990's women who were all about glamour and nothing about achievement.
On my show we featured two grid girls, Caroline and Charlotte. Both were intelligent, articulate women -- Charlotte being a qualified accountant and Caroline now running her own promo business. These women are hugely inspirational but in my mind, only when you give them a voice. Let them speak for the brands they represent and suddenly they become part of the marketing and PR team -- they become a valued member of the weekend. If we continue to use these girls as mules we do them a disservice.
I'm sure there are women reading this who think: "it's our right to be a grid girl or to enjoy the use of grid girls for a weekend." I just think it's a bit naff -- let's celebrate women for more than just their appearance.
The World Endurance Championship did away with grid girls in 2015 and the series organiser was called all sorts of homophobic names and faced a barrage of abuse on social media. We've seen what a furore the decision to not use walk-on girls in darts has caused over the past few days but ladies and gents, the times they are a'changing.
One of the things I find funniest about the promo girls debate is the romanticism placed on grid girls. Let me dispel the myth -- grid girls are a relatively new thing... they haven't been around in F1 for decade. They first started being used in the late 1980's and even then it was more personalities than just pretty young things. Katie Price famously represented the Jordan F1 team -- a masterstroke by team boss Eddie Jordan at the time -- but since then the personality side has all but disappeared. The girls are not allowed to speak unless spoken to and are merely there to be photographed and leered over.
If we want to attract more families to watch F1 what sort of a message do grid girls send out? Really? I still find it difficult to think why anyone, male or female, would want to be a grid girl or boy. Yes, you get to stand on a grid when the race is getting ready to go and for many it's a way of meeting a future husband or boyfriend -- but if you really want to be involved why not aspire to more. Become an engineer, learn to be a PR exec, take guests on tours of the paddock. I just don't see the attraction of being just a pretty girl on the grid.
I hope boxing and cycling are next to decide that women have a better place than just being a token gesture in their sports. When there are so many amazing women competing at the highest level and being such brilliant role models for the next generation let's celebrate them and the future and not romanticise about a bygone era which should be consigned to the history books of sport.