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.”