When is a 'grid girl' not a 'grid girl'? According to some, the attractive models expected to grace the Monaco grid on Sunday don't qualify. Not because the TAG Heuer crew is comprised of a mix of men and women, but because they won't be holding grid numbers.
That is hair-splitting on an extreme level. Will the models have any function beyond the decorative? No. And that lack of function is what Formula One was trying to do away with when the 'grid girl' ban was implemented.
So far this year we have seen dancers and musicians of both genders take part in the pre-race ceremonies that traditionally provide a glimpse of local culture. But the principality of Monaco lacks any culture not found in a petri dish. The favella for billionaires perched on the edge of one of Europe's most beautiful coastlines is a transient city, a place where residents come and go as their fortunes fluctuate.
The few native Monegasques still around do have a heritage -- and a language, in which the principality is known as Monegu -- but they have been vastly outnumbered by the super-wealthy who have made the 'sunny place for shady people' their home. But that Monegasque heritage isn't celebrated as part of the grand prix, and many of those who attend the race leave never knowing it exists.
In lieu of local culture, then, the Monaco Grand Prix is celebrating the principality as we know it -- a place in which tanned and long-limbed lovelies of both sexes parade around in expensive watches and unusual takes on high fashion. Grid girls and boys in all but name.
The concept of 'grid girls' is something I have always found to be anachronistic. Formula One purports to be a high-tech sport, full of futuristic technology and boundary-breaking. Pretty men and women being paraded around is about as hackneyed and cliched as concepts get -- sex sells, simple.
It has to be acknowledged that, as far as the practice goes, F1 has typically been more tasteful than most. In countries like Malaysia and China, outfits were inspired by traditional costumes, while in the airline-sponsored races in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain (among others) flight crew male and female have adorned the grid in staff uniform.
Contrast that with the PVC catsuits, latex bikinis, and outright body paint found in other championships, and F1 begins to look tasteful.
Tasteful or not, however, the problem with grid girls was the message they were unwittingly sending to spectators. While the number of women in Formula One is increasing every year, it's only in the past decade that we have really seen women in technical roles. Programmes like F1 in Schools and Dare To Be Different go out of their way to demonstrate that there is a place for everyone in motorsport, but they are working hard behind the scenes.
Every week on screen, however, Formula One was selling the subliminal message that a woman's role was on the grid, holding a number and smiling in heels.
Yes, the 'grid girls' chose to do it, and yes they were paid for the pleasure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a man or woman deciding that they want to take on a job with little real purpose. What was -- and still is -- wrong is the impression created, giving girls to think that men are mechanics and engineers and drivers and more, while women are pretty and mute.
That's what Formula One and the FIA were trying to do away with when they announced the 'grid girl' ban, and that's a message being undermined by the presence of promotional models on the grid, irrespective of their gender identity.
But the real shame about F1 and grid girls is the missed opportunity they represent. Why stick with a formula that was tired decades ago when Formula One really could break boundaries and push the technological envelope by introducing grid robots?
The Toro Rosso drivers could line up behind Asimos in STR colours, Ferrari could produce an actual prancing horse in rosso corsa, Haas could get Michael Bay to loan them some spares from the Transformers franchise...
Grid robots. You know it makes sense.