Tag Archives: Formula 1

The Shade of Her Parasol: Does Formula One’s Grid Girl Ban Risk Neo-Misogyny?

Regular readers of this blog will have long been aware that we at Mediolana are not an easily shocked bunch, but the news that Formula One (‘Formula 1’, ‘F1’) has abruptly terminated the presence of grid girls – promotional models who perform various logistical tasks, such as helping spectators with directions and holding umbrellas above stationary cars pre-race in the event of rain – at their events sent us into deep contemplation.

The grid girls ban –which comes into force with the start of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship on 25th March – comes hot on the heels of the Professional Darts Corporation’s abrogation of their utilisation of walk-on girls. But despite some apparent similarities, the two cases could scarcely be more different.

Not only are grid girls an F1 tradition which spans many decades – in contrast to their purported counterparts in darts, which are a recent innovation – but their aesthetic is a world away from the gaudy, tabloidesque presentation inflicted on females working in some other sports. Promotional models who work in Formula One convey a completely different brand proposition in which elegance and sophistication are richly in evidence. And while grid girl uniforms can vary somewhat in terms of quality, the general standard is very high indeed; some grand prix, notably those in Azerbaijan and China, have made wonderful use of local traditional fashion motifs to produce strikingly beautiful and iconic official clothing.

Moreover – and this is where it begins to get perplexing – in the context of the recent wave of sexual abuse scandals, the grid girl ban seems weirdly illogical. Most if not all promotional work undertaken by models on Formula One duty is in full public view, and nearly all said work is conducted in groups. Models who have worked in this sector aver that grid girl work is the one of the best gigs going: from the inside, there does not seem to be even a hint of complaint, let alone anything more sinister going on.

So why has this swift and unilateral commercial edict come to pass? Formula One itself claims that is has to do with ‘brand values’ and that the practice of grid girls ‘is at odds with [contemporary] societal norms’. On the latter point in particular they may be correct, and we respect the organisation’s reasoning. But the question must be asked: whose norms? Certainly not those of motor racing fans: a 12/2017 Internet poll conducted by BBC Sport found that 60% of F1 followers agreed that ‘grid girls should be part of Formula One’. And not those of the models involved, either; they are understandably furious that one of the most glamorous, interesting and lucrative professional opportunities in the field has been annulled, seemingly without so much as their being consulted.

Let us be clear: the norms which are being perpetuated by Formula One’s decision are those of the people cheering this move. These entities may be well-intentioned, but they are nevertheless spreading a perverse and soulless doctrine which results in the following:

  1. The deliberate erasure of beautiful women from public life;
  2. The de facto criminalisation of beautiful women; and
  3. The undermining of women’s rights through moral vacuity.

This last point is incredibly damaging. The ‘societal norms’ cited by Formula One are the same values which target utterly trivial matters with relentless crusades while letting gross and unforgivable abuses of women’s fundamental human rights – such as the right the life – go unchallenged indefinitely. ‘Societal norms’ which celebrate the absence of grid girls at, for example, the Mexican Grand Prix – and which are silent on the matter of narcocorridos which glorify the gruesome murder of women in that same country – are, to our mind at least, self-incriminating. They risk constituting nothing less than a form of neo-misogyny in which all women – and therefore society – are regarded as mere collateral damage.

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One World, One Formula: Emerging Markets Closing in On Pole Position!

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Formula 1 in Bahrain: When Information Flows Disobediently

The first part of an (unofficially) extended weekend saw Mediolana’s CSO in a place that is about as close as anything comes to his natural habitat: chilling out at an über-modern pizzeria, replete with metallic furnishings and plasma television screen, in London’s infinitely trendy Charlotte Street. But between the alternate slices of succulent, stone-baked primavera and fungi, the pictures being proffered on that crystalline screen were enough to make anyone pause over their pizza: an alfresco press conference featuring none other than Formula 1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone and Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain.

With the sound muted, the pizzeria’s patrons were forced to concentrate on the expressions of this unlikely pair, snapshots which were complemented by a ticker which dutifully transmogrified their defensive outpourings into palatable soundbites. Nonetheless, the lasting impression was that of two men uncomfortably exerting themselves in  defending the indefensible: amidst the background of arguably the fiercest crackdown within a Gulf Cooperation Council (‘GCC’) state since the beginning of the Arab Spring, a Grand Prix was being staged with the express purpose of presenting a united – or, to use the official term, ‘UniF1ed‘ – nation.

It backfired spectacularly, with the presence of the Formula 1 circus in a country which in recent times has become most notable for flattening roundabouts only serving to remind the international community that tensions between the Al Khalifa-dominated government of Bahrain and large sections of their subject population (particularly, though not exclusively, the kingdom’s majority Shia community) are very much a live issue.

Why did this expensive PR manoeuvre – the construction cost alone of the German-designed Bahrain International Circuit, a 2004 establishment, was US$150m – fail so badly? Quite simply, it seems that the Bahraini elite – despite all the technological developments of the last thirty-five years, particularly the last fifteen – still believe in a mono-channel, top-down flow of information. They do not appear to have realised that information now flows horizontally from networked device to networked device; that while one global news channel may have an interest in underplaying developments, others may seek to be more objective or even exaggerate the grimness of the situation on the ground; and that events cannot necessarily be hermetically isolated from each other.

In such a context, there is no room for pretence: to escape censure, both governments and individuals have to be seen to be acting within the rule of law, proportionately, and flexibly. Torture and indiscriminate killing in an era when every mobile telephone subscriber is a potential mini news agency is a risky strategy which so-called ‘weapons of mass distraction’ may only serve to draw attention to rather than obfuscate.

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