We talked with the motorsports models, one of whom says Japan’s situation is unique compared to the rest of the world.

Formula 1 recently made the announcement that for the upcoming 2018 season, it will be doing away with “grid girls,” female models who have traditionally accompanied drivers to their cars before the start of the race. “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,” the organization stated. “We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world.”

Japan has long been enthusiastically unabashed about pairing attractive women with fast cars for promotional purposes, so much so that there’s an entire sub-section of the modeling industry for “race queens,” as they’re called in the local vernacular. Race queens differ slightly from grid girls, in that instead of being contracted for one race at a single venue, they’re employed by a specific motorsports team and accompany the rest of the group as they travel to various circuits throughout the season, and also represent the team by modeling at conventions and fan events.

Our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun recently sat down with Ms. A, who’s currently employed as a race queen, and Ms. B, a former race queen, to get their take on F1’s decision.

SN24: Jumping right into it, how do you feel about the abolishment of grid girls in Formula 1?

Ms. B: Well, I can see where the decision is coming from in terms of overseas venues. Motorsports themselves are very popular overseas, and F1 is popular as a pure motorsport. So I don’t think abolishing grid girls will have a negative effect on the sport.

SN24: So do you think the situation is different for Japan?

Ms. B: I think it probably is. In Japan, there’s an inseparable connection between grid girls, or race queens, and F1. There’s a large proportion of attendees whose primary reason for coming out to the circuit on the day of the race is to see them.

SN24: It’s true that at the circuit, there’s always a crowd of fans with fancy cameras taking pictures of them.

Ms. A: Even if their initial reason for coming out is to see the race queens, a lot of them go home with a deeper appreciation of and enjoyment for F1 racing, so I think it’d be a shame to lose that.

SN24: By the way, how does one become a race queen? If you apply for a position as one, is it pretty easy to get the job?

Ms. B: Not at all! The entry barrier to becoming a race queen is really, really high.

Ms. A: Each team selects a certain number of race queens every year. What makes it tough is that the contract is only for one year, so you have to audition again every year.

SN24: Wow, that sounds really difficult. About how many applicants do you compete with?

Ms. A: It depends on the team, but usually you end up with about 50 applicants for every one or two openings.

Ms. B: It’s really competitive. And race queens can’t get by with just an attractive face. They’re looking for someone whose build, physical health, posing, and posture are all high-level, so at the auditions they’re extremely strict.

For women working as convention and event spokesmodels, being a race queen is in a way their ultimate goal on that path. A lot of women get into that field of modeling because they want to eventually become race queens.

SN24: So working as a convention spokesmodel is kind of like training?

Ms. A: There are lots of different events where models work, but for example, at big conventions like the Auto Salon and Tokyo Motor Show, there’s a lot of competition. And then that pool gets narrowed down even more as for who becomes race queens.

Ms. B: When I first started out doing convention modeling, I wanted to become a race queen someday. I don’t think there’s a single woman in Japan working as a race queen who dislikes the idea of what she’s doing. The people protesting the use of models in motorsports aren’t giving those women anything else to do, so I’d be genuinely sad if race queens were to be abolished.

The 2018 Formula 1 season kicks off March 25 with the Australian grand prix, and makes its way to Japan’s Suzuka Circuit on October 7.

Reference: Formula 1
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