Dietrich Mateschitz, pictured in 2017, made Red Bull a global success and invested heavily in sport
Vienna (AFP) - Formula One world champion Max Verstappen led the tributes on Sunday to Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz, who turned the energy drink into a worldwide success and pumped money into a title-winning F1 team and several football clubs.
Mateschitz died on Saturday at the age of 78 after a long illness, having amassed a fortune estimated by Forbes at $27.4 billion (27.8 billion euros), making him Austria’s richest person.
He took a sweet drink that was already popular in Asia for its apparent energy-giving properties and adapted it to Western tastes.
Mateschitz was a savvy marketing man who popularised the Red Bull brand by associating it with sport, investing heavily in Formula One, football and extreme pursuits.
Red Bull now employs 13,000 people in 172 countries with an annual turnover of around eight billion euros. It sells nearly 10 billion cans of the drink a year.
Verstappen, who two weeks ago won his second consecutive world drivers’ title at the wheel of a Red Bull car, said he was determined to deliver a strong performance in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix as a tribute to Mateschitz.
“It’s been hard news for everyone, for Red Bull and for the sport and for me in general, in my career and in my life,” the Dutchman said.
“It is a very tough day. We missed out in qualifying by a little bit, but there is a race tomorrow and we’ll try to do it for him… we are going to make him proud.”
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said Mateschitz had led a “simply breathtaking life”.
“Dietrich Mateschitz built up a world-famous and successful company, and we have lost a great supporter of top-class sport and extreme sports,” the president tweeted.
- Success in football and F1 -
Apart from its substantial investment in the F1 team, Red Bull bought the football club of the Austrian city of Salzburg in 2005, then in 2009 acquired Leipzig when the German team were languishing in the fifth division.
Red Bull's Formula One world champion driver Max Verstappen paid tribute to Dietrich Mateschitz
German law bans the use of a company title in a club’s name, so the Leipzig board of directors called their club RasenBallsport Leipzig – literally “lawn ball sport” Leipzig – whose initials “RB” mirror those of Red Bull.
From 2016, the club were promoted to the Bundesliga top flight and one season later qualified for the Champions League after finishing second in the table.
The Austrian company also captured the New York MetroStars franchise in the United States in 2006, turning them into the New York Red Bulls.
Red Bull has also branched out into extreme sports, sponsoring events such as air acrobatics and cliff diving.
When Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumped to earth from a helium balloon in 2012, his suit was plastered with the Red Bull logo.
But it is in Formula One that the company has really made its mark in the world of sport.
The head of the Red Bull F1 team, Christian Horner, said “thankfully” Mateschitz lived to see Verstappen clinch his second title by winning the Japanese Grand Prix earlier this month.
Horner said Mateschitz was “a great man, one of few of a kind” who had “proved you can make a difference. He was a passionate supporter and the backbone of all we do.”
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz secured pole position for the Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, but his thoughts were with his former team.
“I can’t be too happy after the loss of Dietrich Mateschitz. My condolences to his family, friends and the entire Red Bull family,” Sainz said on Twitter.
Red Bull are currently facing accusations from rival teams that they have cheated by breaching Formula One’s cost cap regulations.
The Red Bull drink was born during one of Mateschitz’s many business trips as marketing director of a German cosmetics company when he was served a sweet beverage common in Asia in a luxury bar in Hong Kong.
He was immediately fond of it and was impressed by the drink’s apparent ability to help him overcome his jet lag.
He decided to partner with the drink’s developer Thai businessman Chaleo Yoovidhya and the two men founded Red Bull in 1984.