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Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz dies aged 78

October 23, 2022

Dietrich Mateschitz, the co-founder of the Austrian energy drink company Red Bull, which has gone on to become a major investor and backer of professional sports, has died aged 78 after several months of illness.

Archive image of Dietrich Mateschitz in front of a large Red Bull logo at an F1 race track.
Mateschitz was a famous fan of Formula 1 who first tried to sponsor Austrian racers as early as the 1980s, before building a commercial empire large enough that he could ultimately establish a championship-winning team himselfImage: ATP/picture alliance

Red Bull Racing's Helmut Marko told reporters at the US Grand Prix in Austin late on Saturday that the co-founder of the energy drink company had died at the age of 78. 

The company said in a statement that he had died on Saturday, expressing both its "sadness" and its "gratitude for what he accomplished."

Who was Dietrich Mateschitz? 

The Austrian from Styria co-founded the energy drink company Red Bull in 1987 and helped it grow into a world market leader. As of October last year, his net worth was estimated at just over €25 billion.

The Austrian-Thai conglomerate says it employs more than 13,000 people in 172 countries and sold nearly 10 billion cans of its caffeine and taurine-based last year.

As the company grew, Mateschitz's marketing strategy switched. The heavy television and media marketing campaigns began to subside. Instead, Red Bull began investing heavily in sporting events, especially events that kept with the high-octane style that might fit an energy drink. 

Probably his most famous single investment was the purchase in 2004 of the then-Jaguar Formula 1 team. 

By 2010, Mateschitz had transformed Red Bull Racing from a midfield contender to a championship-winning team, with the young German charger Sebastian Vettel at the wheel. 

Red Bull Sebastian Vettel Dietrich Mateschitz Formel 1 Flash-Galerie
Sebastian Vettel won four consecutive world championships with Red Bull early in his career, between 2010 and 2013Image: AP

For a little over a decade Red Bull even owned and funded two F1 teams, with their junior team based in Italy badged Toro Rosso.

Red Bull also invested heavily in other more extreme sports, many of them with a racing bent, involving everything from stunt planes to motorcycles and bicycles and more. 

Later, the company famously started branching out into the acquisition of top-flight football clubs such as Red Bull Salzburg, RB Leipzig, the New York Red Bulls, and others. 

Condolences pour in

Tributes poured in at the race track in Texas at qualifying. 

"We are saddened to hear of the death of Dietrich Mateschitz The co-founder of Red Bull made an unforgettable contribution to F1, and leaves a lasting legacy," the official Formula 1 Twitter account wrote. 

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez called it a "sad day to all the Red Bull Family."

"Williams Racing is very sad to learn of the passing of Dietrich Mateschitz. We are sending our thoughts and condolences to his family and friends and everyone at the Red Bull and Red Bull Racing family at this time," the Williams F1 team wrote. 

F1 journalist Adam Cooper, present in Austin, said that Red Bull F1's longstanding team principal Christian Horner "just paid a heartfelt tribute to Dietrich Mateschitz, acknowledging how the Red Bull boss gave him a chance when he was a young F3000 team boss."

Meanwhile, former F1 team official Mark Gallagher, now a columnist, focused on Mateschitz's legacy and the childhood love of F1 that moved him to invest in the sport. 

"Dietrich Mateschitz's contribution to F1 is right up there with the very greatest motor racing entrepreneurs. He loved the sport, a diehard fan, passionate follower of [1970 world champion] Jochen Rindt who realized his dream to one day own an F1 team & win the World Championship. A game changer," Gallagher wrote. 

'Petrolhead' from his youth

Famously, Mateschitz was trying to get his foot in the F1 door long before he had the means to do so. Austrian F1 star of the 1980s Gerhard Berger often tells the story of how a man he had never heard of approached him looking to set up a sponsorship deal. When they met, Mateschitz purportedly admitted to Berger that the one thing he could not offer the Austrian driver, who had a bit of a reputation as a mercenary, was any financial compensation. As Berger tells the tale, this was where their exploratory meeting ended. 

But almost 20 years later, the Austrian would return with the funds not just to support a driver but to purchase an entire team of his own. 

Red Bull has been dominating the 2022 season, with Max Verstappen already crowned world champion for a second consecutive season, holding an unassailable points lead in the standings with four races still to run. 

Mateschitz's absence from races and other major events had been noted in recent months, prompting people to think he must be in poor health. However, the multi-billionaire was notoriously private, particularly where media interviews were concerned, so comparatively little had been made of his condition. 

msh/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)