The Australian Grand Prix and sponsor Mercedes-Benz have ditched the traditional Ladies Day after 13 years – but not because women have lost interest in motor racing.

Rather, the opposite. Women’s interest in Formula 1 cars and drivers has surged. However, their interest is specifically in Formula 1 cars and drivers, which the lunch –held on the opening Thursday of the grand prix since 2009 – didn’t actually offer.

It is another sign of the changing nature of women and sport, which has been supercharged by the start of the AFLW in 2016, although Oaks Day, the traditional Ladies Day of the Melbourne spring racing carnival, seems in no danger.

Grand prix fans Brodie Harper, left, and Eleanor Baillieu don’t mind that Ladies Day has been cancelled.Credit:Aaron Francis

“A lot of the guests who followed Formula 1 were male and their partners also wanted to attend but were less interested in what was happening on track,” said Jerry Stamoulis, head of brand engagement for Mercedes-Benz.

“Fast forward to 2022 and the number of women who wanted to attend Ladies Day dropped. It was a real surprise to us.

“It was quite clear that a lot of our female guests wanted to see Formula 1 on track and Thursday didn’t offer that.”

Thus, Mercedes-Benz is building a new grandstand for 800 people, in addition to its regular 450-guest Star Lounge at the Albert Park circuit.

The grand prix is monitoring the number of female attendees.

“Between our last two Formula 1 Australian grands prix in 2019 and 2022, female event attendees of all ages and all attendees aged between 18 and 34 both doubled in growth, up from 24 to 38 per cent and from 26 to 40 per cent respectively,” an Australian Grand Prix spokesman said.

“It is just a magical week for Melbourne,” says Brodie Harper, a 41-year-old television presenter.

“Melbourne shines. You get to feel the greatness of what Melbourne is.”

Mercedes-Benz Ladies Day lunch on day one of the Melbourne Grand Prix in 2010.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Friday marked the release of the fifth season of Drive to Survive, the Netflix Formula 1 documentary dubbed “one of the greatest sports marketing devices of all time” and is part of the explanation of the surge in popularity.

“Since the series started it has gone from the men going to the Formula 1 with their friends to their partners and girlfriends wanting to go. I don’t think it is a sport for males any more,” Harper said.

Women will soon be driving in the Formula 1 competition, she predicted. “It is fabulous that upcoming female drivers are vying for positions in the Formula 1 and that will be fascinating to see over the years. When it happens, it will be awesome.”

Eleanor Baillieu, 29, daughter of former premier Ted Baillieu, went to her first grand prix as a child with her father.

“I do credit my dad with getting me involved. It was definitely a male-focussed audience coming to the Formula 1, a lot of my girlfriends weren’t sure about it,” she says.

It’s increased popularity was due to several factors, she said, including the growing prominence of women in sports such as cricket and AFL.

“It is become a more common thing for families to be involved,” Baillieu said.

“Over the past 10 years, I am starting to see a lot of younger kids coming along particularly with their dads.”

The Australian Grand Prix, the third in the global calendar, runs from March 30 to April 2.

In 2022, it recorded an estimated attendance of 419,114 over the four days, setting a global record, although local Save Albert Park campaigners dispute how the figures are calculated.

Last year, Victorian taxpayers spent a record $78.1 million hosting the event. The 2022 race, the first after two years of cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, generated $75.1 million in revenue but cost $153.2 million to stage. The state government said the race boosted Victoria’s gross state product by $171 million.

This increased numbers of women attending has spilled into their attitude to buying cars, Stamoulis said.

“We are seeing more and more women running their own businesses and their car is becoming their second office, so it’s very important that they have a car that can match their busy lifestyle.”

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