Even as fans lined up outside Albert Park on Friday morning the decision to cancel the F1 race was being discussed

Aussie Grand Prix cancellation a blow to all concerned

The season opener of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship slated to take place across the weekend of March 13-15, at Melbourne's Albert Park, has been cancelled.

The Australian Grand Prix Corporation saying: "At 9am today, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation was advised by Formula One of their intention to cancel all Formula One activity at the Formula One Australian Grand Prix.

"In light of this decision and updated advice this morning from the chief health officer of the Victorian government's Department of Human and Health Services, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation confirms the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix is cancelled immediately.

"Last night a member of the McLaren Racing team tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

What was to be the 25th year of Formula 1 racing in Melbourne beamed into living rooms by the WIN/TEN Network, leaves fans, racing teams, sponsors, drivers and commentators devastated.

The WIN/TEN Network has released the following statement: "We support the decision by Formula One Management and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation to cancel the 2020 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix this weekend. The safety and well-being of our employees, partners, the racing teams and everyone who was planning to attend is our number one priority. In light of the cancellation, we will run our regular programming schedule."

The network's team of sports commentators was to be led by head of sport Matt White, with successful Australian F1 driver Mark Webber, host Roz Kelly, F1 expert Tom Clarkson, F1 legend Alan Jones and reporters Scott Mackinnon and Kate Peck all on board.

White is the youngest of six siblings who grew up playing cricket, baseball, rugby league, water polo and any other sport he could join in.

"They were my weekends. It got to the stage if I wasn't going to be an athlete, I had to do something that involved it and this folded in with my love of journalism," says the respected presenter who turns 50 next month. "I naturally followed what was in front of me and I have been lucky enough to roll that into a career.

"It has also created some good problems. We all love sport as a family, and I have a bunch of sport-loving mates, so you can imagine the arguments - there are only a limited number of free tickets."

The first major sports event he covered was the Commonwealth Games in 1994. "I was a 24-year-old who started in newspapers. I'd done enough to be prepared, and I'd been on TV before, but not done anything on that scale. I absolutely butchered by first cross. It's a bit of a blur. But it didn't kill me. I got into the groove and I had a lot of good people to learn from. People like Tim Webster, Anne Fulwood; these were established professionals with great work ethics, so I soaked up as much as I could. That was the good part of Ten back then and now, everyone is willing to help everyone else."

White became the host of Sports Tonight which he says was one of the most enjoyable office experiences he has had. "We were new and different, a bit brash, but we quickly established ourselves as something people wanted to see. It all happened organically with a bunch of extremely talented people and it's where I met my wife, so we look back on it really fondly."

Matt White

Matt White

After 10 years with Sports Tonight White was offered a position and Seven in 2004. "I thought long and hard because I loved what we were doing at Ten, but I always thought if you are presented with an opportunity you should take it. The time was right and everything fell into place.

It just so happened Seven had the coverage of the Athens Olympics, then followed by the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Australian Open Tennis and the Melbourne Cup.

"There were a lot of things I missed about Ten, but a lot of positives about going to Seven. We took the network to No.1, with sport playing a huge part, and I did things I hadn't done at Ten."

Although motorsport had been Ten's domain, two years later Seven picked up the V8 Supercars and White was back in commentary again. He says even from his newspaper days he was always interested in every aspect of the industry. "At Seven different things came my way."

One of the things he is most proud of in his career is his versatility. "One day you could be doing cyclone coverage and the next day Formula One."

His move back to Ten in 2014 was a gamble at the time. "I followed my gut, you can only control what you can. And it led me into management as head of sport. I didn't actively seek it, but I thought 'give it a go, see how it all works'."

As an on air presenter at the 2020 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix, and head of sport White says there is a range of different problems. "At some stage I'll have to switch into guiding everyone. There are a lot of long sessions before you get to race day. There's a lot of noise, but I don't have any special gargles, I just look after myself." He uses the drive to and from the venue to wind down. "I turn off the radio - no phone calls helps - but whenever I can, I step away completely."

White says you won't find anyone who has covered anything like the Grand Prix complaining. "You know what you're in for and you know what you get out of it."

He has never been one to do prep, tending to be more reactive in commentary. "I comment on what's in front of me and hope the words come. I've never had a trained voice." After so many years you get to know your voice and your limits, he says.

Someone who doesn't seem to have any limits is Australian Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo. "He's always bouncing around, so bubbly. I don't think Australians really appreciate the kind of pressure these guys face at their home Grand Prix."

White believes Ricciardo will "back off a lot" [after what happened last year], "so he doesn't get to Sunday completely frazzled". "This is a pivotal year in his career and he needs to make sure he is still relevant at the end of the season."

"The Australian Open is a good analogy with the Grand Prix - they are both the first one of the year. It is so hard to win. Lleyton [Hewitt] used to build a siege mentality for the Open. People wondered why he would get so angry, but it's a different mindset at home. If Daniel can get to Saturday without the distractions, he won't make the same mistakes as he did last year. Mark [Webber] has explained it very succinctly. The drivers can get out of their cars after practice and spend up to half an hour signing autographs, and shaking hands. Neither Mark nor Jenson Button could win a home Grand Prix. And Alan Jones says he really wishes he'd won a home Grand Prix."

Just like the Grand Prix drivers, White sets very high standards for himself. "As the leader of the broadcast, I have to set the example along the way. We all work very closely together."

Unfortunately, unless the race is rescheduled, motorsport fans will have to wait for their first fuel injection of speed.

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