Inside Line: Liberty Media’s shameless F1 Grid Girls hypocrisy

Liberty Media revealed their shameless hypocrisy after ‘American-style” cheerleaders dominated the pre-race show at the 2023 Miami Grand Prix, both during the driver presentations and now, inevitably, also grabbing a fair share of headlines.

‘American-style’ intros and curtain-raisers can be thoroughly entertaining and adds to the show, NBA, NFL and MLB would be sorry old series without cheerleaders to do their thing, it’s part and parcel of the sporting long-standing traditions of sport in the USA.

That’s why I have no problem with it, despite the discomfort that was palpable from the drivers. Granted, for them, it’s too much razzmatazz when the priority is to ‘get in the zone’ for what they are paid to do and the race ahead. However they get so much money and are living the dream, so if dancing ladies with pom-poms are part of the job description, then so be it – drivers must lump it.

After all, it’s the USA and this is how they do things, whether we like to or not. Be sure most Americans probably did enjoy their spectacle. Their country their rules, which we respect no matter how garish or overt the fanfare may appear. And furthermore, cheerleaders are professional models, career women whose CVs are enhanced by having worked such beats; eg. F1 Cheerleader is good to have on the resume.

Ditto F1 Grid Girls (an unfortunate name perhaps, maybe Grid Ladies would be more suitable, or Grid Reps, or Grid Operatives or simply Grid Models) who were around for decades, part of the prerace customs whereby each lady was placed in front of a car on the F1 grid, holding a placard with the driver’s name and grid position.

F1 Grid Girls have been part of the sport for decades

Women - always in trouble with them, but can't live without them." (Ayrton Senna) . #AyrtonSenna #Senna #SennaSempre #SennaForever #… | Ayrton senna, Ayrton, Senna

They graced the grids until the final few minutes when they neatly marched out of the soon-to-be-fired-up cars, much of the time standing there, smiling and doing the Grid Girl thing, an attractive deflection of attention for media, selfies and VIPs, away from the drivers readying themselves for the battle ahead. It worked well, seamlessly and was part of F1’s landscape, and copied by other motorsport disciplines around the world, and still many series use Grid Girls at race events every weekend, from grassroots Karting to big racing events, around the globe.

But not F1, since January 2018, Liberty Media decided that F1 grid girls were politically incorrect, decreed at the time by Sean Bratches one of the three chiefs, in charge of the commercial side: “Over the last year we have looked at a number of areas which we felt needed updating so as to be more in tune with our vision for this great sport.

“While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of F1 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. We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to F1 and its fans, old and new, across the world,” concluded Bratches’ statement on the matter.

Now this is from Liberty Media, of course, a company that employs models as cheerleaders for their Atlanta Braves baseball franchise and obviously backed the cheerleaders showing up to strut their stuff at the Miami Grand Prix. How is this different from the far more modest, unintrusive and far classier F1 Grid Girl concept? No different of course.

And therein lies Liberty Media’s shameless hypocrisy

liberty media f1 brawn bratches carey

It’s fine to respect and accept American traditions of cheerleaders, yet perhaps because they own the sport, they can deem the long-standing European and Asian traditions of F1 Grid Girls obsolete. Gone was a stylish plug-in to the pre-Grand Prix build-up: from the lederhosen-clad ladies in the Spielberg mountains, or Monaco’s chic F1 Grid Girls decked out in the finest Chanel for the occasion; or the dapper ladies in their Etihad outfits on the Abu Dhabi grid; and so many more…

Now bear in mind, Liberty Media’s Bratches made the F1 Grid Girl ban call in 2018, there was only one Grand Prix in the USA at the time, in Austin. The American invasion had not dawned on them, thus making these silly ‘politically-correct’ statements of intent to feed their narrative of the moment.

However, five years down the road, F1 has boomed Stateside beyond Liberty Media’s wildest dreams and anyone’s predictions thanks to inspiration from Netflix’s Drive to Survive series. The money is pouring in like never anticipated, investment from the USA (sponsors etc) now surpasses what the rest of the world dumps into F1. And of course, we have three races there this season which will demand the ‘American-style’ pomp.

What happened to Liberty Media’s lame reason for axing F1 Grid Girls?

F1 abandons its racy grid girls

After all, Bratches did say “we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern-day societal norms” which, inevitably prompts the question, in the wake of Miami’s F1 cheerleaders: What’s the difference between cheerleaders and Grid Girls in F1?

None. Most F1 fans are not offended by F1 Grid Girls or F1 Cheerleaders for that matter, but don’t give us this: “We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to F1 and its fans.” Because that’s unabashed insincerity because Liberty Media are intent on one thing right now, milking the fattened cow as much as they can, with whatever means, even if it means a shotgun to the foot, as in this case.

Why does it even matter? Here is the reality that Liberty Media must face when a professional model, whose career highlight included being an F1 Grid Girl, asks the question: Why are the scantily clad, pom-pom waving models allowed but not us with our classy outfits and grid boards?

Seriously, F1 Grids Girls united, fighting the shameless hypocrisy by Liberty Media in a mass action lawsuit is just what these faux-woke folks at FOM deserve when you read the story of a career F1 Grid Girl, whose livelihood was all but stolen by a boardroom whim, at a time when F1 had no clue where it was heading.

In 2018 when Bratches deployed the ban, 25-year-old Melissa James, who grew up as a motorsport fan, told CNN that becoming an F1 Grid Girl was the pinnacle of her modelling career in the UK: “The drivers are focused on wanting to win the race, they don’t want to schmooze, they don’t want to have conversations so that’s when grid girls come in.”

Melissa James: You’re not just standing there on the tarmac

Grid girls gone: F1 to no longer use models on starting grid - National | Globalnews.ca

“You’re meeting fans, you’re posing with photos and, because you’ve got the branding on your clothes, it’s going out on Instagram,” explained James. “Saying that we’re just a pretty face is absolutely ludicrous. We’re saleswomen at the end of the day. We need to learn how to talk to people and get people on board with the product.”

James explained how she had worked as a promotional model for eight years, including the prestige of being an F1 Grid Girl, she also worked at British Touring Cars, as well as doing shifts as a ring lady in boxing, a walk-on model at darts events and a start-line girl for speedway.

The jobs earned her more than the UK minimum of £7.50 ($11.00) an hour for over 25-year-olds; at some promotional events, she was able to earn up to £140 ($200) a day.

James added: “I’ve got the ability to sell, I’ve got the ability to do customer service, I’ve got the ability to talk to people. I feel so well-rounded and well-equipped because I’ve done so much promo, so I feel I can go into any industry and go straight to the top.”

Time for F1 Grid Girls United to slap Liberty Media with a lawsuit for reinstatement and loss of earnings! Go Ladies!

Grid girls grand prix f1 flags

“Yes, I might be wearing an outfit that’s very particular to that job, but you are essentially a saleswoman. You don’t know what you’re selling until a couple of days before you have to turn up. You’ve got to learn the product, you’ve got to learn the advantages of the product and you’ve got to make sales for it,” explained James.

Perhaps the time is right for model agencies, model agents and models themselves to unite and fight to be reinstated as their colleagues, F1 Cheerleaders, have inadvertently opened the door for F1 Grid Girls to take on Liberty Media, not only for their right to stand on the grid as their counterparts did for over half a century, but also loss of earnings since the 2018 mandate.

Wait a second, do you think ‘American-style’ is going to be exported? Imagine F1 Cheerleaders at Monaco, Monza, Suzuka, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia (will they even allow them?) also at Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort, Hungaroring and other of our sports hallowed temples of speed.

Or should Liberty Media do the right thing (as much as fans are prepared to accept the USA-razzmatazz for three races) and drop the blatant hypocrisy and accept that the rest of the world does not have a problem with F1 Grid Girls, just like your F1 Cheerleaders.

The reality of fighting for this is far beyond lobbying for the right of GP organisers to have Grid Girls, but rather a matter of principle, sending a warning message to the so-called ‘owners’ of F1 that there is a limit to how much they can tinker while they kidnap our sport to suit their own hypocritical money-making-at-all-costs-driven agendas.

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