And just like that, Formula 1 called for a stop in using Grid Girls for their pre-race ceremonies. The backlash and heated debates on social media were at a feverish pitch for a week or more with everyone and their dog sharing an opinion or shouting the other side down. A tangible example of the mobocracy at work.
Perhaps today’s announcement was always in the works or perhaps it could be in response to the blowback the series received from canceling grid girls. What better way to throw water on a difficult situation involving allure and glamour than to convert the entire conversation from beautiful women to…you guessed it, kids.
Yes, F1 has now announced the new Grid Kids program and as I said in my editorials, I thought any replacement of the status quo would be good if it was replaced with kids. What an amazing opportunity for these youngsters. Who can be upset at doing away with grid girls when you replace them with kids, right?
What I am unclear on is if this was always the plan, why would Sean Bratches lob the grid girl grenade into the public square and let it fester for a week prior to announcing its replacement? That seems antithetical to any PR or marketing campaign.
I can’t imagine a Brand would purposeful place itself at the center of negative controversy for over a week only to then try and do damage control and hope the replacement program garners as much viral reach as the initial shock announcement. Perhaps Sean wanted the controversy and friction in order to garner media attention and while that worked, it isn’t how I would go to market and its could be seen as manipulative and the least common denominator in marketing efforts. F1 fans will quickly grow tired of being toyed with by using click-bait scandals and controversial moves.
Either they knew this was the plan all along and chose not to divulge that at the time they felt compelled to tell the world they’d be canceling grid girls or they didn’t have a backup plan and this is a reaction to the backlash. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I find it hard to believe they would make an announcement without a backup plan to be honest.
This leads me to the line of thought, albeit it may be completely wrong, that F1 made the Grid Kids move as a correction initiative due to the backlash from their initial announcement regarding grid girls. I have to give F1 the benefit here and say this isn’t the case because if it were, it would be very indicting on the PR and marketing acumen of F1.
If the details of the Grid Kids program weren’t completely ironed out yet, then hold off on the grid girl announcement until they had all the details arranged. Why announce only half of the program? That makes little sense unless you were seeking quick viral coverage knowing your decision would elicit strong responses. Here is the complete press release for your review:
FIA AND FORMULA 1® ARE PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE A NEW PARTNERSHIP, CALLED GRID KIDS
The joint initiative will involve the local Grand Prix promoter working alongside ASNs – the FIA-recognised national sporting authorities – who will provide a unique opportunity to youngsters and their families to be part of one of the most exclusive and exciting moments of the whole race weekend.
The youngsters will be chosen by their motorsport clubs on merit, or by lottery, and will already be competing in karting or junior formulae. The lucky few will then be able to accompany and stand alongside the 20 best drivers in the world on the grid as they prepare for the race.
FIA President Jean Todt said: “Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motor sport and the dream of every young racer competing the junior series that make up the FIA’s single-seater pyramid, from karting all the way to F1. We are therefore delighted to bring that dream a little closer by giving the future champions of our sport the opportunity to stand alongside their heroes on the grid in the build-up to the race start. For the wider FIA, this is an excellent initiative that provides additional support to our member ASNs in their efforts to grow motorsport worldwide through a unique reward they can make available to youngsters participating in their national series.”
Sean Bratches, F1 Managing Director of Commercial Operations said: “This will be an extraordinary moment for these youngsters: imagine, standing beside their heroes, watch as they prepare to race, the elite of the elite in motorsport, to be there, alongside them in those precious few minutes just before the start. What an unforgettable experience, for them, and their families. An inspiration to keep driving, training and learning so that they can dream of one day being there themselves. What better way to inspire the next generation of Formula 1 heroes.”
The Grid Kids will be chosen at every Formula 1 race, and where possible, also for the major feeder series like F2 and GP3. They will be accompanied by their immediate family who will have paddock access for race Sunday.
Racers need only apply
I understand the tie-in with junior karting and using the program to grease the wheels of the FIA’s members and their children who are in the racing program but I think this is fine as a component of the program but it leaves out a large element of the equation…the fans.
It’s not that young karters in an FIA junior program aren’t fans of F1, of course they are, but the majority of fans with children don’t have the means to go racing and some kids love F1 but have no interest in becoming race drivers, they just love the sport. Maybe they want to be a motorsport engineer or work in, dare I say, the hospitality arm of F1. These kids have no chance of ever being Grid Kids? Why limit the lottery to just those who are racing in karting? What if you are a kid whose parents can’t afford to be in a local FIA recognized motoring club but you one day aspire to be the next Adrian Newey? Maybe you want to become a business person and one day be the next Claire Williams.
With the limitations to the program, I guess I am trying to discern how this is more relevant and interesting to fans as the headline suggests. I think having kids is terrific, don’t get me wrong. I just think it should be a proverbial “golden ticket” opportunity to Wonka this sucker and give all kids a chance to be grid kids, not just junior race drivers vested in the FIA program.
Pinning this program to the FIA junior racer program lends credence that this decision is reactionary and not originally planned. That’s unfortunate and I hope I am wrong, which I very well could be.
Hat Tip: FIA