Off The Grid

Philip Boeckman, Formula One

In a move that will almost certainly stir fierce debate and reopen the alleged rampant sexism that exists in Formula One, Liberty Media have announced that the sport's famed Grid Girls will no longer feature at F1 races.

In the wake of the Presidents Club scandal a fortnight ago, F1 has clearly been spooked enough to abandon their own policy of deploying good looking females to stand next to the cars on the grid pre-race, and to welcome the podium drivers after the race.

Yes, in this day and age, such a profession seems rather outdated. Looking at the reaction from the paddock, it is the older generation that have criticised the move. Both Niki Lauda and Jackie Stewart are bemused, with the latter describing it (and not too inaccurately) preventative medicine.

The removal of the Grid Girls is just the latest in the ongoing argument that rampant misogyny exists in the sport. Critics point to the lack of female drivers in the paddock or indeed on the track. Such an argument does not take into account the extreme difficulties of any professional motor racing driver making it into Formula One, let alone male or female balances.

At any given time in Formula One, there are 20 drivers on the grid; in theory and largely in practice, the 20 drivers are usually the most skilled of their profession. Of the tens of thousands of kids that rise up from junior karting, an incredibly small pool are deemed good enough to get close to F1.

For every Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel - rampant champions in karting clases - there are hundreds of kids, usually boys, that are thrown on the wayside and who's driving careers end before they reach adulthood.

And that's the crux of the matter; the stark lack of girls who are karting at a young age. As Jackie Stewart puts it:

For whatever reason, young women are not going to karting tracks. That’s what all the boys do. Whether it’s Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, these guys, from a young age, have been week after week at go-kart events.

You have to keep in mind that from the hundreds of thousands of go-kart racers in the world there are only 20 grand prix drivers who make it into Formula 1.”

Like it or not, the legendary driver has hit the nail on the head. Statistically, the chances of a karting junior making it onto the F1 grid is incredibly slim. Gender doesn't come into it.

At the paddock level, and when it comes to providing a greater balance of female engineers, team members, there is greater scrutiny and more of a problem. Long has there been an issue with encouraging females to launch a career in STEM. The UK Government, for example, have spent close to a decade encourage more girls to chase STEM subjects. 

Across the paddock, there is a growing number of female engineers. Indeed, there have been several women in senior roles across the ten teams; Claire Williams is currently Deputy Principal of Williams (effectively commander-in-chief, given her father Frank's symbolic involvement) whilst Monisha Kaltenborn was the Sauber Team Principal until this season. Within the inner-workings of Formula One, females hold key positions across the commercial and legal wings; no longer is it a world for men only.

The decision to remove Grid Girls may help remove the stigma that a female's role in F1 is to look good and interact with the male drivers, but it seems entirely misled. 

 

Philip Boeckman

Huge fan of @F1 and Motor Racing in general. I blog about anything and everything from the world of Formula 1