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When Formula 1 announced it would no longer use so-called grid girls, the huffing indignation was so great you’d think they’d actually announced a plan to take 22 winsome women to a deserted area of Silverstone and string them up by their tongues. Still, from the reaction in some quarters at least we learnt two things. Firstly, it’s amazing how many middle-aged men seem to be deeply concerned about the financial well-being of attractive younger ladies. These girls have been SACKED, they harrumphed inaccurately. It’s not FAIR, they spluttered. Who knew that paunchy blokes with a football team name in their Twitter bios and a photo of an Aston as their avatar were so touchy-feely when it came to someone losing three days of freelance work. The second lesson was that people who use the phrase ‘political correctness gone mad’ are, without exception, crashing bores. The sort of dullards who latch on to people in pubs, bemoan the way they can’t be a racist prick in public and like to agree with things twice. ‘I know, I know. Isn’t it, isn’t it? You’re not wrong squire, you’re not wrong.’ I don’t know what it is with this particular brand of clattering fun-sponge but they’re very big on the double affirmation. Nigel Farage shows this verbal tic a lot and, as we know, he is the melted froggy face of middle-aged bores. Isn’t he just, isn’t he just. It’s political correctness gone mad, eh?
“Nigel Farage shows this verbal tic a lot and, as we know, he is the melted froggy face of middle-aged bores”
And this, of course, is what a certain brand of bore blamed for the grid girl decision. It was ‘PC culture’. Or, for the particularly petulant and frightened 50-something weeping into his Doom Bar, it was ‘those bloody feminists’. Well, it wasn’t either of those things. It was a business decision. Liberty wasn’t strong-armed by Germaine Greer, it simply decided to get rid of women because it makes its sport look old-fashioned and out of touch with the world of 2018, and that in turn makes it harder for it to sell sponsorship and sign lucrative TV deals. Maybe there’s some political correctness and some feminism sewn up in the shifting social standards of our time, and if so then good, because it would be nice to think our kids could watch F1 without getting the impression that men do the heroic stuff while the women stand there silently smiling and holding a stick. But this is merely part of what was a cold, rational business move. And it filled me with delight because it suggested Liberty has realised something very fundamental about F1 as it stands: it is not as glamorous as it thinks, nor as high tech and sophisticated as it claims. F1 is, in fact, deeply and horribly naff.
F1 is interminable ads for ‘business solutions’. It’s acres of synthetic fibres spun into matching branded clothing. It’s men in firmly tucked shirts talking for ten minutes about tyres. Yes, of course there are private jets, fine hotels and expensive watches, but you only get those if you’re an actual Formula 1 driver. The audience at home has none of those. The traditional Formula 1 viewer isn’t a continent-hopping supermodel. He’s someone’s dad who’s wolfed down the Sunday roast because ‘the Grand Prix’ is on soon. He’s someone’s dad, grabbing another bottle of Spitfire and rushing to the sitting room to catch the prerace pre-amble and VT package set to some on-the-nose music from whatever country the race is in. He’s someone’s dad flopping into the armchair with a pound coin of piss on the front of his M&S action slacks and a hearty sigh as he writes off the next three hours slumped in front of the tell. He’s someone’s dad nodding off around lap 24 and waking with a start when someone comes in to ask who’s winning, a question he can bat away with a grumble about ‘another bloody procession’ even though he comes back for more of the same every other Sunday. And of course, he’s someone’s dad discovering he won’t get a glimpse of thigh or flash of sideboob in between shots of a sweating David Coulthard trying to grab a ten-second grid chat with Max Verstappen, and he’s going online with a righteous fury about ‘robbing these young women of choice and many of them actually enjoy doing it, you know’.
Thankfully, Formula 1’s new bosses seem to have realised how tired and old hat their sport can seem to the wider world, and how things have to change. And it’s the wider world they need to lure if their sport is to evolve and thrive. What’s really heartening, though, is that they’ve realised that to do this, first they need to really piss off some bores.