Red Bull’s Dietrich Mateschitz, the Austrian billionaire who transformed F1, soccer, and energy drinks, dies at 78

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Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, co-founder of the Red Bull energy drink company and founder and owner of the Red Bull Formula One racing team, has died. He was 78 years old.

Officials of the Red Bull racing team at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, announced Mateschitz’s death on Saturday. There was no immediate word on where he died, or the cause of death.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, chairman of the FIA ​​motorsports governing body, said Mateschitz was “a towering figure in motorsport”.

“The thoughts of the entire FIA ​​family are with his loved ones at this time and he will be greatly missed.”

Mateschitz gained fame as the public face of Red Bull, an Austrian-Thai conglomerate that says it sold nearly 10 billion cans of its caffeine- and taurine-based drink in 172 countries worldwide last year.

Mateschitz not only helped make the energy drink popular around the world, but also built a sports, media, real estate, and food empire around the brand.

With Red Bull’s growing success, it significantly expanded its investments in sports, specifically motorsports and extreme sports, with Red Bull now operating football clubs, ice hockey teams and F1 racing teams. Red Bull also has contracts with hundreds of athletes in various sports and an in-depth driver development program to take riders to the highest level.

“It has been hard news for everyone: what it has meant for Red Bull and of course for the sport, and especially for me,” said Max Verstappen, who claimed his second successive F1 title two weeks ago.

Verstappen on Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas will try to tie Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel for an F1 record of 13 wins in a season, and will also try to clinch the constructors’ championship for Red Bull.

“What he has done for me, my career so far and in general my life, it’s really difficult, it’s a really difficult day,” Verstappen said. “There’s still a race to go and we’re going to try to make him proud tomorrow.”

Mateschitz and Thai investor Chaleo Yoovidhya founded the company in 1984 after Mateschitz recognized the potential to market Krating Daeng, another energy drink created by Chaleo, to a Western audience. Red Bull says Mateschitz worked on the formula for three years before the modified drink under his new name was launched in his native Austria in 1987.

Under Mateschitz’s stewardship, Red Bull rapidly increased its market share, first in Europe and then in the United States, aided by marketing campaigns touting the drink’s stimulant properties and extensive sponsorship deals in motorsports, soccer , extreme sports and the music industry.

The Red Bull Racing team has been successful in Formula 1, winning the constructors’ championship in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, while German driver Vettel won four drivers’ championships in a row when he signed with the team.

Verstappen started in Red Bull’s driver development program and became the youngest driver in F1 history to start a grand prix when he started with the Toro Rosso junior team aged 17 in 2015. The Dutchman is now the most dominant driver in the sport.

“Many of us have to be very grateful to him for the opportunities he gave us and the vision he had, the strength of character and never being afraid to follow dreams and go after them. That’s what he did here in F1, showing you can make a difference,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports F1.

“We’re incredibly grateful for him, everything he’s done, everything he’s supported us with over the years,” Horner added. “So many drivers, so many team members, so many people in this pit lane owe him a lot. He was incredibly proud of the team, incredibly proud of everything we’ve done and achieved, and he’s been a passionate supporter and the backbone of everything we do.”

Red Bull operates soccer teams in the top divisions of Austria, Germany, Brazil and the United States. The company started by buying the Austrian club SV Austria Salzburg in 2005 and renaming it in company colors under the name Red Bull Salzburg.

It repeated the move in Germany, where it bought fifth-tier club SSV Markranstädt in 2009, renamed it RasenBallsport Leipzig and financed its steady progress through the league system until it was promoted to the Bundesliga in 2016. German league regulations they prevented the company from naming the team Red Bull Leipzig: its German name, RasenBallsport, means “Leipzig grass ball sport”, but the club simply refers to itself as RB Leipzig.

Mateschitz also made headlines for his populist views. She previously criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her handling of the refugee crisis during 2015-16. The Austrian television channel Servus, owned by Red Bull Media House GmbH, is known for promoting provocative right-wing views.

Mateschitz bought the Jaguar Racing team from previous owner Ford in late 2004 and renamed it Red Bull for the 2005 season. Later that year he also bought Minardi and renamed it Toro Rosso, cleverly using it as a feed team for Red Bull.

—Auto racing writer Jenna Fryer and Associated Press sports writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.

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