February 1, 2018 / 3:28 PM / in 6 months

Motor racing - Formula E welcomes F1 'to the 21st century'

LONDON (Reuters) - Electric racing series Formula E has welcomed, with a little dig, Formula One’s decision to end the use of female models who stand on the starting grid holding up drivers’ name boards before races.

“We are glad to welcome F1 to the 21st century,” a Formula E spokesman said on Thursday in response to Formula One’s announcement that the women would not feature from this season onwards.

“Formula E has stopped using Grid Girls last year already and we just didn’t feel the need to shout about it.”

Formula E, now in its fourth season but with far less exposure and following than Formula One, has instead focused on using young and aspiring drivers to perform the role as ‘Grid Kids’.

The electric series, which will be racing in the Chilean capital Santiago this weekend, said the new concept was working well.

“It’s a great and emotional experience for these kids to be on the starting grid, next to the drivers and cars that they might drive one day, so hopefully it also works as a good motivation for them,” it added.

Formula One has yet to give details about the grid procedures for the 2018 season, which starts in Australia on March 25.

Commercial manager Sean Bratches explained the decision on Wednesday to drop the decades-old custom of using female models by saying it “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 One and its fans, old and new, across the world,” he added.

The decision, a major talking point on social media, was welcomed by many in and around the sport but angering other fans.

The sport’s former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who was ousted when U.S.-based Liberty Media took over last year, told the Sun newspaper that part of the show would be lost.

“I can’t see how a good-looking girl standing with a driver and a number in front of a Formula One car can be offensive to anybody,” said the 87-year-old Briton.

“They are all nicely dressed. I would think people like Rolex and Heineken wouldn’t have girls there who weren’t presentable.”

Austria’s retired triple world champion Niki Lauda, who won his titles in the 1970s and 1980s and is also a non-executive director of champions Mercedes, denounced what he saw as a “decision against women” and hoped it could be reviewed.

“Where is this leading to?” he asked Austria’s Der Standard newspaper. “If you follow through like this, you soon won’t have any cheerleaders anymore in the U.S.”

Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla in Vienna, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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