LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One is ending the use of female models who parade on the starting grid and stand with the drivers’ name boards before every grand prix.
The decision was announced in a statement on Wednesday with the change, which also applies to all support races, coming into effect from the start of the season in Australia on March 25.
“While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula One grands prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms,” said commercial manager Sean Bratches.
“We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula One and its fans, old and new, across the world,” he added.
The move became a major talking point among fans on social media and was welcomed by Britain’s Women’s Sport Trust, who said in a tweet: “Thank you @F1 for deciding to stop using grid girls.
“Another sport making a clear choice about what they want to stand for.”
Cycling, professional boxing and the UFC still have women parading between bouts or featuring as podium hostesses but the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) recently scrapped such walk-on roles.
Britain’s Sun tabloid newspaper took a different view, however, with a front page headline on Thursday blaming ‘killjoys’ for turning the sport into ‘Formula Dumb’.
Formula One has not had a woman race driver on the starting grid since the 1970s but is now far more mixed off the track, with female engineers, aerodynamicists and mechanics as well as in media and marketing.
Two of the 10 teams have had female bosses, including former champions Williams, and Formula One management has a number of women in senior positions.
The use of female models, even if not as scantily-clad as in the past, has been increasingly criticized as sexist and outdated in a sport that is now undergoing a revamp since Liberty Media took over last year.
Liberty, who ousted octogenarian former supremo Bernie Ecclestone a year ago, have been looking to make the pre-race show more of a feature with the emphasis on entertainment for fans and promotion.
“Formula One considers the time spent by teams and drivers on the grid before a race as one of celebration, where guests and various performers can add to the glamour and spectacle of the Grand Prix,” the statement said.
It added that the change would allow promoters and partners “to showcase their countries and products”.
Ross Brawn, Formula One’s managing director for motorsport, gave notice last December that the use of female models on the grid was under review.
“There’s a lot of people respect the tradition of the grid girls and there’s people who feel that it has become a bit dated, so we’re addressing that,” he told the BBC at the time.
In 2015, men were deployed in place of the women at the Monaco Grand Prix — a move welcomed by some fans and deplored by others.
That same year, the FIA-sanctioned World Endurance Championship announced an end to the practice at the Le Mans 24 Hours sportscar race.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis/Greg Stutchbury