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‘Grid girls’ ban relates only to women standing in front of cars holding numbers, says F1

Formula One has finally revealed that the ‘grid girls’ ban relates only to “girls standing in front of the cars on the grid holding their race numbers”.

Repeated efforts by Mumbrella to find out if grid girls had been used as a sponsor activation at the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend were batted away by both F1 and Singapore Airlines.

“By definition in the Formula 1 history, grid girls are commonly known as girls standing in front of the cars on the grid holding their race numbers,” an F1 spokesperson eventually told Mumbrella.

“They are no longer used in Formula 1 since the beginning of the current season and will never be used again. This was also the case last Sunday on the grid of the Singapore Grand Prix.”

“As it happened in some of the previous races – last but not least in Monza during the Italian Grand Prix – men and/or women of different ages (there were kids in Melbourne) are on the grid for specific promotional purposes, whether representing the promoter, the title sponsor of the race or other global partners of Formula 1.”

‘Grid kids’ in Melbourne

As Mumbrella previously reported, upon taking over last year the new F1 owners Liberty Media banned walk-on grid girls in an attempt to bring the sport’s image up to date.

In a statement back in January, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches said: “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.

Bratches said grid girls were ‘at odds with modern day societal norms’

‘While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 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 Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world.”

However, Singapore Airlines – which first introduced its version of ‘grid girls’, in the form of cabin crew wearing the airline uniform, back in 2014 – before the race refused to answer questions as to how this year might be different after the F1 management ruling.

And globally, since the ban, grid girls have allegedly still been, or will be, used by sponsors at races in a number of places including Monaco and Russia – although F1 has denied that this is the case.

Speaking to Mumbrella, Singapore Airlines confirmed that it was still using cabin crew – both women and men – as “brand ambassadors” at the race and would continue to do so in the years ahead.

An airline spokesperson said: “Our crew assist in duties including hosting invited guests and representing Singapore Airlines during selected race ceremonies.

“Both male and female crew were represented, and yes, we intend to take this same approach in future races.”

Asked for clarification on whether staff had still been used on the grid, the airline spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, we are unable to comment beyond what has already been shared.”

The F1 press team in Singapore would not provide clarification or comment either, but eventually the F1 global communications team provided a statement – although the issue of where and how promotional staff are used on the grid at races remains unclear.

Part of the confusion around what is and is not banned might well originate from the separation of power when it come to F1 marketing activations. While the global team sets the agenda and the guidelines, local marketing teams operate almost as autonomous franchises.

Explaining the structure to Mumbrella back in March, F1 Singapore GP marketing director Sasha Rafi said: “We each work individually and the consultation is really with the F1 management for approvals and so on.

“However, over the last six years or so the management has encouraged us promoters – as we are known because we have a local licence to sell tickets for the individual races – to gather together to discuss the issues we face. Things like broadcast rights and sponsorship activations.”

On the grid girls issue, Rafi said in the same interview that she did not believe the ‘grid girls’ concept was exploitative. “You could perceive grid girls as sexist,” she said. “However it was not just about what they were wearing but also what they stood for – ambassadors to showcase the brand of the title partner.

Rafi speaking at the Mumbrella Asia Travel Marketing Summit in April

“The Singapore Airlines grid girls for the last few years have been the icons for Singapore and the ROI for sponsors is about airtime and brand awareness, it was a channel to allow that to happen.

“I don’t think that is exploitation. It does work as a brand activation for the sponsor. Singapore was different to any other circuit where you might see grid girls wearing short skirts and leather boots. It differed from market to market.”

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