Grand Prix collides with correctness

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NO NOISE, no colour, no pizzazz and now no grid girls. PETER COSTER wonders where in the world is the Grand Prix going:

NEXT MONTH’S season-opening Grand Prix at Albert Park is frustrating the fans before it starts. The Ferraris, Mercedes and Red Bulls will still be emitting the insipid drone you might hear from a Japanese buzz-box on a suburban street.

No roar and no awe from Formula One until major engine changes by 2021. Fuel flow will be increased to allow higher revs, but nothing like the howling days of the “old-school” V8s and V10s that revved up to 21,000 rpm.

The current 1.6-litre V6 hybrids manage only a sedate 15,000 or less, which at least soothes the nerves, if not the ears, of some Albert Park residents.

Another frustration for fans at the season opener at Albert Park is that drivers will be enclosed with the “halos” that will supposedly protect them from flying debris.

The fans will see less of the drivers and nothing of the “grid girls”, who brought colour and pizzazz to F1.

This is more silly than serious with the London Sun condemning the dumping as “Formula Dumb” and “killjoys” for banning the grid girls.

Grid girls from the Melbourne Grand Prix. Pic: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images.
Consigned to the history books… Grid girls from the Melbourne Grand Prix. Pic: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images.

Small but perfectly formed former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone labelled it “political correctness” gone mad and his big mate, Ron Walker, who lost his battle with cancer last week, would have been in furious agreement.

Big Red, chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation and the man who pinched the race from Adelaide, won’t be lazing back in a deck chair behind the pits, where I would often come upon him as he lit up a Cuban cigar and held court.

Walker wanted the noise to be put back into Formula One and would have said the same about the grid girls.

Liberty Media, which bought Ecclestone’s share of Formula One, has allowed itself to be nudged off at the first corner by feminism, which has clearly got itself in a fearful spin about nothing.

This has nothing to do with the exploitation of women and only the male-hating centurions of the sisterhood would dispute that.

But if the alternative is to be confronted on the grid by grid boys and grid girls, representative of all the sexual complexity of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-sexual, inter-sex and queer communities, better it be left to languish. Some would have the St Kilda gay-pride marchers parading around the track.

Liberty Media F1 chief Chase Carey, who might now consider shaving off his handlebar moustache, lest it offend some groups as a symbol of male domination, pleads that times have changed and the grid girls are no longer “appropriate.”

One might ask if women are no longer appropriate, or to be seen in even the national costumes worn at some GPs. I have seen women wearing skirts, jackets and even hats. Is it that men might look at them that is offensive?

The halos that will sit around and above the drivers for the first time in Formula One are a more serious matter. Supposedly to protect the drivers in what have always been open-cockpit cars, the halo is shown on an online F1 simulation as deflecting a flying wheel from another car.

That has already been achieved by securing the wheels and massive tyres on F1 machines with steel cables. This followed the fatal injuries received by Henry Surtees, the son of former F1 world champion John Surtees, in a F2 race at Brands Hatch.

What is more dangerous for the drivers is the longer time it takes for them to get out of the car after a crash. It should take no longer than seven seconds for a driver to extricate himself from a six-point safety harness and the steering wheel of a burning wreck.

But in a test with the halo fitted, Valtteri Bottas took 9.59 seconds to get out of his Mercedes. It used to be a maximum five seconds, but the FIA changed this to seven seconds to accommodate the halo. Is the fire expected to wait?

The halo adds another distraction for the driver, whose vision is already severely limited by the letterbox-like slit he looks through in his helmet.

Former triple world champion Niki Lauda, who is part owner and non-executive chairman of Mercedes F1, is more incensed than most about the halo, having suffered appalling burns to his face when his Ferrari 312 T2 burst into flames at the Nürburgring on cold tyres. I wrote about this in an earlier column recalling the gallows humour that often surrounds dangerous sports.

Lauda and some friends revisited the corner where the accident happened and where Lauda was pulled from the wreck by other drivers. Had there been a halo on the car, Lauda might never have got out. The car was a fireball, but Harald Ertl, Guy Edwards, Brett Lunger and Arturo Merzario pulled him from the flames.

Watched 30 years later by some German fans who asked what he was looking for, Lauda picked up a grisly object from the grass. One of his friends, a restaurateur, said: “He’s found his ear.”

It was a pig’s ear, which had been hidden there, but the joke was not to the German fans’ taste, in spite of the pig’s ear being on the menu at the prankster’s restaurant.

Bernie Ecclestone was also there and is still thought by many to be the perpetrator.

Ecclestone and Lauda have a similar robust attitude to life, death, and grid girls.

They think having girls on the grid adds to the F1 show. The ban is ridiculous. You might as well ask should showgirls be banned from Las Vegas or cheerleaders banned from the Super Bowl.

Having once written a regular column on art sales, which I admit has nothing to do with F1, unless it is the billions of dollars spent each year, I was always amused by the “pop” art of Roy Lichtenstein.

A weeping, cartoon blonde cries out in a word bubble: “Eeek! He looked at me.” It struck me as a parody of political correctness.

Eeek, get rid of the grid girls.



Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.



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