The global feminist movement and the egalitarian drive to make businesses more inclusive and (let’s face it) less sexist are impacting industries of all stripes—including racing stripes.
Add Formula 1 racing to the list of industries getting up to speed with the times, with news that the prestigious motorsports circuit is replacing its so-called “Grid Girls” with a more family-friendly team of “Grid Kids” at the track. The changes also apply to other motorsports series that take place during the Grands Prix weekends.
The youngsters 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 20 best drivers in the world on the grid as they prepare for the race.
In replacing female promotional models on the starting grid with budding racing drivers and young fans, the hope is “to make the pre-race ceremony more relevant and interesting for fans, especially the younger ones,” and to encourage more women fans.
Formula 1 (also known as Formula One or F1 and officially the FIA Formula One World Championship) is the highest class of single-seat auto racing sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).
“Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and the dream of every young racer competing the junior series that make up the FIA’s single-seater pyramid, from karting all the way to F1,” FIA president Jean Todt said.
“We are delighted to bring that dream a little closer by giving the future champions of our sport the opportunity to stand alongside their heroes on the grid in the build-up to the race start.”
ICYMI: The next generation of #F1 fans will mingle with today's drivers before lights out in 2018
F1 and the @fia have announced that Grid Kids will be featuring this coming season
We might even spot the next @Max33Verstappen ( with dad Jos)
— Formula 1 (@F1) February 5, 2018
F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches added, “What better way to inspire the next generation of Formula 1 heroes?” Bratches, an American ad sales veteran who rose through the ranks at Disney/ESPN before joining F1, added that the Grid Girls tradition “does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms.”
GRID KIDS: The next generation of F1 fans will now have a chance to line-up alongside their heroes on race days, ahead of lights out… ⬇️ https://t.co/r50zFbdetC
— Formula 1 (@F1) February 5, 2018
Liberty Media, F1’s American owners, have made no secret of their objection to using female models, arguing that the decades-old practice is “at odds with modern-day societal norms.”
“Grid girl” Sophie Wright isn’t the only young woman who defends the practice, arguing that the role is a brand ambassador for the sport. “You have beautiful, glamorous air hostesses working for the best airlines in the world, you have beautiful Victoria’s Secret models.”
— BWOAH RACING (@BWOAHRacing) February 5, 2018
Grid Girl Danielle Ferin added that she and her colleagues “do it by choice, and we’re not forced into the work,” and it’s not about “looking pretty.” They have “brought a lot of people together. I think it will stop a lot of people going to see it [F1 races], it will just be really male-dominated.” She called the move a “backwards step.”
Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s former CEO, also opposed the change, but three-time world champion driver Sir Jackie Stewart, now 78, defended F1’s owners for the decision, stating: “I don’t think it is a shame or a controversial decision and I understand what Liberty are saying. These are different times that we are living in.”
In addition to making more fans feel welcome, brands welcome the move too. Tommy Hilfiger, for example, just announced a multi-year sponsorship deal with four-time Formula One World Champions Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport.
“From the first time I attended a Formula One race, I was completely fascinated by the world of motorsports,” Tommy Hilfiger stated about his personal love for the sport.
“To be re-entering this arena with World Champions Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport and their number one team is an incredible way to fuse fashion and Formula One. I recognize the passion, spirit and drive that the entire Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team shows at every race, and these shared qualities are why I’m excited to partner with them for the upcoming seasons.”
As Official Apparel Partner, Tommy Hilfiger will supply travel and team kits and office and hospitality apparel for more than 1,500 individuals ; its logo will be added to the team’s 2018 race cars, while brand ambassador, model Gigi Hadid, will play a role, too.
“The exciting partnership with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport is a celebration of our shared commitment to keep technology and innovation at the core of our business,” said Daniel Grieder, CEO Tommy Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe.
“We take pride in partnering with organizations that are the best in their industries and share our passion to attract and retain the best-in-class teams. We are excited to leverage the incredible reach that Formula One has worldwide as we continue to build on our brand’s global recognition and bring Tommy Hilfiger to new audiences.”