Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz dies at 78

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — 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 from the Red Bull racing team at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, said on Saturday that Mateschitz had died.

There was no immediate word on where he died, or the cause of death.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner paid tribute to Mateschitz shortly before his drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez, climbed into their cars to qualify for the American race.

“He is the reason we are here. It was his passion for Formula One and his vision. He was always enthusiastic, encouraging and supportive on good days and bad,” said Horner. “I feel privileged to have known him. For the whole team now, despite the shock, we’re going to do exactly what he would have wanted, which is to go in there with his cars and do the best we can, and try to close this constructors’ championship (title) down. “

Red Bull driver Verstappen has already secured the drivers’ title for the second consecutive season.

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 the growing success of Red Bull, he significantly expanded his investments in sports. Red Bull now operates soccer clubs, ice hockey teams and F1 racing teams, and has contracts with hundreds of athletes in various sports.

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 Sebastian Vettel won four drivers’ championships in a row when he signed with the team.

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, cunningly using the team as a feed team to RedBull.

“It’s important that we recognize all that he has contributed to the sport,” Horner said. “Not just this sport, but it goes way, way beyond that.”

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