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F1: Women back on the grid at Monaco GP, but in a different role

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MONACO (AP) — Women will make a return of sorts to the Formula One grid at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix, although not in the previous “grid girls” role now discarded.

Instead of women standing in front of each car, holding up the driver’s race number, men and women representing watchmaker Tag Heuer will take photos of the drivers for social media purposes. There will be a man and a woman for each driver and they will also report fans’ comments back to drivers.

Early this year, F1 ended the long-standing practice of using “grid girls.”

The tradition saw women dressed in uniform walking onto the grid shortly before the race start, holding up placards. Women would also stand alongside the top three drivers on the podium after the race. F1 managing director for commercial operations Sean Bratches said in January the practice wasn’t appropriate anymore, a move which met with more approval outside of F1 itself.

Michel Boeri, the president of Monaco’s Automobile Club, disagreed with the decision.

“Our American friends considered that employing young women to hold up placards contributes to demeaning (women),” Boeri said in local newspaper Nice-Matin. “Our hostesses come from modelling and communication colleges. They are elegant and in the image of Monaco.”

But French driver Romain Grosjean welcomed the decision to scrap it.

“When it was removed, I thought it was a good thing for women in the 21st Century because they were not used as just a board holder,” Grosjean said.

However, he remains a rare disapproving voice.

Four-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton welcomes the return, although he expressed reservations.

“I think women are the most beautiful thing in the world. When we pull up to the grid and there are beautiful women on the grid, that’s the Monaco Grand Prix, that’s a lovely thing,” the British driver said this week. “But I definitely don’t think that we should ever be supporting or pushing these women in general to feel uncomfortable. And if they are, then we shouldn’t do it.”

Sebastian Vettel is adamant the practice should continue, even claiming to know how women feel.

“I think they enjoyed what they were doing,” the German driver said. “I’m sure if you ask any grid girl on Sunday if they’re happy to stand there, their answer will be `Yes.’ It speaks a little bit for our times that sometimes there’s a lot of noise for nothing.”

As a one-off in 2015, the Monaco GP replaced “grid girls” with “grid boys” – men in short jeans – in a move scoffed at by Vettel.

“You get there and park behind George or Dave,” the German driver said at the time. “What’s the point?”

Last month, the Russian GP also considered bringing “grid girls” back, with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak saying “If we can reach an agreement we will revive this tradition.”

F1 team principals have joined in the debate.

“It’s up to the track also to decide if they want to put grid girls on,” Sauber team principal Frederic Vasseur said Thursday, smiling. “I think it’s a good move.”

His views were largely echoed by Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

“I think it was not discriminatory at all, it was part of the history of Formula 1,” Wolff said. “So I’m happy to see them back on the grid in Monaco.”

Horner, whose team has Tag Heuer as a sponsor, added: “So long as it’s done in an appropriate manner, then it’s ultimately down to the promoter.”

Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”