Driving girls off the grid

Now that elite pathway has been closed off, there are fears the women described by F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo as ‘fast girls’ will be condemned to the slow lane, writes Larry Ryan

Driving girls off the grid

Grid girls and walk-on girls. Their fight for survival would, ordinarily, be a battle to steer clear of.

Turn one way and risk making use of the desperado’s catchphrase ‘PC gone mad’. Shimmy the other and the snowflakes start to settle.

Oh, danger here!

And yet, how can we wash our hands of these women, since it was Ireland that first put them on the grid, told them to walk on with hope in their hearts?

We can’t forget that this was once Formula One country. When Munster v Leinster — aka one of the sporting world’s greatest traditional rivalries — was attracting a couple of hundred punters, ‘the Jordans’ were our Paulie, Rog and Drico.

Our national self-esteem, much as it will be over the next six weeks, was tied up in the progress of a multinational crew with a shamrock on the livery.

And if Heinz Harald Frentzen was one of us, so too was Jordan, the model. In a historic piece of business to rival the building of the IFSC, Formula One Country snapped up a dramatic branding coup, securing lifetime naming rights to Katie Price, one of Eddie Jordan’s first grid girls.

There were women operating in ornamental roles in Formula One since the ’60s, but it was Eddie who sexed things up in the pits.

“All of the major models were so keen to get into the yellow Jordan swimsuits,” he assured us, with a reverence ordinarily reserved for a garment such as the green jacket.

But another bandwagon lapped Eddie’s cars long ago. And now the tide has gone out on grid girls, just days after the PDC called time on their walk-on counterparts in darts.

“We feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values,” said F1 MD Sean Bratches, who will bring the brand to Bahrain as usual in April, when its values will be massaged to accommodate the experiences of local women.

The decision has been welcomed by groups such as the UK Women’s Sport Trust, which has long called on sports to celebrate women’s achievements rather than appearance.

And newspaper and website editors have diligently paid their own tributes by trawling Getty Images for the last pictures of this cherished custom.

Yet dismay has mounted too. And great concern for the employment rights of women from untraditional quarters, including perverts.

Compelling evidence has piled up that the pit lane has been serving as an academy of sorts for some of the great glamour postings of our time. Olivia Attwood, we are told, became a star of Love Island having started out as a grid girl. While Izzy Beaumont was springboarded to a stint on Celebs Go Dating alongside Joey Essex.

Now that elite pathway has been closed off, there are fears the women described by F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo as ‘fast girls’ will be condemned to the slow lane.

“These girls did nothing harmful to anybody. We might as well say we don’t want people to go to a fashion show,” blasted former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who has previously assured us that female drivers could not be taken seriously in the sport.

We know the situation is grave when Bernie is upset, a man who has been able to see the good in Hitler and Saddam Hussein and their knack for getting things done.

What will be next, goes the cry.

Fight fans asked to figure out what round it is without ring girls? No more bottom pinching after a Tour de France stage win? Cheerleaders forced to turn in their pom-poms? The whole modelling industry abandoned? Little Mix told to put on cardigans?

Mind you, models and singers are central to their industries and rewarded accordingly. While cheerleaders and grid girls are modestly-paid window dressing.

One grid girl has claimed she was not allowed speak until spoken to by the drivers, whose attitudes might best be summed up by Lewis Hamilton spraying champagne in the face of an unimpressed ‘hostess’ after the Shanghai Grand Prix in 2015.

But the grid girls themselves have hit back, Rebecca Cooper vowing: “I’ll fight for my right to choose what I wear, where I work and to keep a job I love.”

In a recent BBC Five Live documentary presented by F1 journalist Jennie Gow, one woman, an accountant by trade, said she got into the game because she loves cars, racing and getting up close on Grand Prix day.

Though she added: “If I was offered anything else to do within the team other than grid girling, I’d probably do it.”

And that might be the point. Whatever its brand values, there aren’t many visible alternative gigs for women in the sport.

A sport that doesn’t seem to have evolved much since Jenson Button shared his opinion of women drivers a decade or so ago. “You wouldn’t want to be on the circuit with them, would you? A girl with big boobs would never be comfortable in the car. And the mechanics wouldn’t concentrate. Can you imagine strapping her in?”

It’s 42 years since a woman strapped in on the grid for a Grand Prix rather than held a sign. And there are still only tentative plans for a women’s series in 2019.

At a time when there are still so many firsts in all sports, first female referee, first manager, first county chairperson; when football clubs are only beginning to embrace their women’s teams; when women’s darts is a desperately poor relation; it’s probably not ideal to see, as the Women’s Trust puts it: “women used to accessorise events rather than be a central part of a sport.”

When they are truly front and centre, there would hardly be much wrong with another “sprinkling of women on top”, as former ITV F1 presenter Beverley Turner described the use of grid girls.

But for now, change was probably due. The Benson and Hedges logo on Jordan’s yellow bikini bottoms wouldn’t cut it these days either.

And in case Formula One Country feels guilty of betrayal, we should note that Katie Price also decided to rebrand herself last year, and to leave Jordan behind.

Controvassy replaced by controVARsy

This page operating, as usual, roughly half a decade into the future, in April 2012, following a fresh outbreak of the usual clamour for video refereeing, warned what would occur should it ever come to pass.

Football crowds sapped entirely of spontaneity, every pivotal decision reviewed, referees abdicating all responsibility. And replays able to prove just about every penalty box ‘coming together’ involves some sort of foul.

Controvassy replaced by controVARsy, as we’ve now seen. And after Anfield last Saturday, panic has already set in.

Actually, we took you further down the line, to when managers will be given challenges, which was the popular solution mooted this week, now everyone has seen how unmanageable the current incarnation will be.

That won’t work any better.

Over the last five years, the average Premier League game has thrown up fewer than three goals. Give gaffers two challenges each and one thing you can be sure of is that every goal awarded will be subject to challenge. And perhaps counter-challenge.

And how would that even work? Would a manager need to describe exactly what he’s disputing, or just take a punt?

Because, if he’s just conceded from a corner, he’d be bang unlucky not to turn up some kind of foul.

Heroes & villains

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

#TerracesNotTv: League of Ireland marketing has tended to err on the side of sanctimonious. The ‘Real Football, Real Fans’ anti-barstooler vibe preached to the converted. But the latest Bohs derivation is a fresh approach — it stars a football-mad kid, first weary in a United shirt in front of the box, then bubbling with excitement en route to a Bohs game with his dad. It’s a smarter play: target this generation via their sense of responsibility to the next.

HELL IN A HANDCART

Tony Henry: “It was nothing discriminatory at all,” insisted the fired West Ham director of player recruitment, who reportedly advised an agent the club didn’t want any more African players.

Where next for the lad, perhaps after a little reality TV redemption? Controversial shoot-from-the-hip columnist, or straight into politics?

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