Sayonara, then, to the grid girls, who have gone the same way as refuelling stops, driver medals and double-points races, consigned to the dustbin of Formula One ideas that once masqueraded as progress.

A penny for the thoughts of Lewis Hamilton, who last year took one look at the massed ranks of male journalists in Melbourne to declare that there needed to be "more ladies" in the paddock. "Too many dudes," he lamented.

Alas, Britain's four-time world champion, whose last sally into gender politics was to say of his nephew at Christmas that "boys don't wear dresses", has since been about as voluble as a Benedictine monk.

The decision by F1 owners Liberty Media to dispense with these women, on grounds that the custom "does not resonate with our brand values", will deprive Sebastian Vettel of much comic ammunition.


Glimpsing some Russian grid girls in 2015, standing at the back of the Sochi press room in diaphanous white dresses, he turned to Hamilton and said: "You just told me you're waiting for the girls to come over to your room at the Radisson. Room 708."

The German funster was similarly tickled by Monaco's one-off experiment in replacing the girls with male models. "You get there and park behind George or Dave. What's the point?"

So, no more trussing up young Japanese women like Hooters waitresses, and no more fitting out their Austrian counterparts with dirndls so twee that even Julie Andrews might think twice. The era of presenting women as mute, frivolous, rictus ornaments is over.

You do wonder, though, what took F1 so long, when most branches of motorsport reached the age of enlightenment a while back.

"For me, that is the past," said Gerard Neveu, chief executive of the world endurance championship, upon ditching the grid girl concept three years ago. "The condition of women is a little bit different now."

At one level, Liberty's move is a salutary one, signifying not just 21st-Century thinking but a repudiation of the dafter elements of the Bernie Ecclestone circus. Nominally still "chairman emeritus" of the sport he turned into a global behemoth, Ecclestone has been shunted into the remotest executive broom cupboard.

But at another level, the air-brushing of grid girls is mere window-dressing, threatening to expose a deeper hypocrisy. How, for example, can F1 proudly say that it is shelving a practice "at odds with modern-day societal norms", while still happy to prop up the grisly norms of a society like Bahrain?

The Bahrain Grand Prix, a fixture of the F1 calendar since 2004, stands as testament to Ecclestone's infamous question: "What human rights? I don't know what they are."


It was cancelled in 2011, after the government declared martial law to crush pro-democracy protests. In 2012, it somehow went ahead despite more bloodshed just a few kilometres from the track, with father-of-five Salah Abbas allegedly beaten to death by police on the eve of the race. Ever since, thanks to an expensive PR operation by the ruling Al-Khalifas, tales of such outrages have been deftly swept into the desert sand.

Be in no doubt, though, that the iron fist remains. Only this week, two Bahrainis were sentenced to death and another 47 stripped of citizenship on suspicion of Iranian-backed militancy, despite insistence by activists that those convicted were engaged in peaceful opposition.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, described the ruling as the "latest episode in Bahrain's travesty of justice — and likely one of the most cruel".

This gives a flavour of a regime from which F1 is comfortable taking £30 million a year. The problem, alas, is a resolute incuriousness about the fetid politics in which this race is steeped.

Any journalists accredited for the grand prix are required to sign documents promising to cover nothing but F1 or risk the immediate loss of visas.

It is a wretched state of affairs, to which the worst response is indifference. And yet year after year, F1 heads there in a hermetically-sealed bubble. Jenson Button, in his McLaren days, could scarcely have been less bothered, claiming his routine in Manama consisted solely of "hotel, pool, track".

The demise of grid girls is all well and good, but it is ultimately a soft option, borne of calculations about image and branding. Withdrawing from Bahrain would be, by far, the more necessary defence of "societal values", to use Liberty's own language. It would confirm F1 had indeed changed.

- Telegraph Group Ltd