Red Bull tycoon re-energizing Formula One
The hills are alive with the sound of motorsport: The Red Bull Ring in Austria.
June 23rd, 2014
12:04 PM ET

Red Bull tycoon re-energizing Formula One

Austrian Red Bull tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz likes to do his talking - and his spending - on the track.

The billionaire made just one low-key public appearance during Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix. He was finally spotted by eagle-eyed TV cameras on lap 23 of the race, but by that point his Red Bull team’s chances of victory had fizzled out.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was lagging a lap off the pace and would later retire. Canada race winner Daniel Ricciardo had to settle for eighth after being shunted out of position at the start.

It was probably not the homecoming Red Bull envisaged but for Mateschitz re-energising one of F1’s best-loved tracks may be reward enough.

There were murmurings after Sunday’s race that the undulating circuit, set in the ridiculously lush green Styrian Hills, was even better looking than picturesque Spa, the home of the Belgian Grand Prix in the Ardennes.

With stunning views from the swish media center, the hungry press pack was also kept happy with regular servings of schitznel and strudels.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner praised the “carnival and festival atmosphere” – and he was right.

A snaking queue of enthusiastic caravans and campers clogged the road to the circuit on Thursday, forcing some senior member of McLaren to begrudgingly abandon their cars and walk to work.

Tickets for Sunday’s race had sold out in just 42 hours with many fans coming to pay homage to their Red Bull Racing heroes.

“When we got here we went to the grandstand and it just blew us away, it’s so beautiful, it’s one of the best places,” Anna Kamsebner told CNN.

Anna had come from Salzburg to experience her first Austrian GP with German and British friends she had met on a Red Bull fans’ page on Facebook.

“We want Red Bull to do well but when you’re actually at the race, it doesn’t ruin your weekend if they don’t,” she smiled.

A decade ago, Mateschitz bought the Jaguar race team that would morph into Red Bull Racing and go on to win four team and driver world championships.

In that same year, the Austrian also bought the A1 Ring – the stage for the Austrian GP from 1997 to 2003.

Even the entrepreneur, who built his empire by turning a local drink concocted in Thailand into an international billion-dollar brand, might afford himself a rueful smile that his resurrection of the Austrian GP came one year too late – his race team’s global domination now snuffed out by the might of Mercedes.

But there was an inkling in the Austrian alpine air that for Mateschitz restoring the circuit and grand prix was more a labour of love.

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The 70-year-old was born just 60 kilometres from the Red Bull Ring in Sankt Marein im Murztal. Reviving the Spielberg circuit and the grand prix was a way of giving something back.

Locals who lived close to the circuit and wanted to spruce up their houses and gardens were invited to send an inventory and invoice for the work to Mateschitz, who would pay the bill.

The original plans for “Projekt Spielberg” included building a university at the circuit – but locals were not quite so keen on Mateschitz giving so much.

Instead, the revamped Red Bull Ring has seven hotels, varied driving experience centers, new pit buildings and a posh wing for media and hospitality.

The pretty white church in the centre of the track is state owned and still holds Sunday services, though probably not on race day.

The track, which was last used to stage an F1 race in 2003, is also largely untouched.

“There is nothing changed,” circuit architect Hermann Tilke, who went on to design 13 F1 circuits after the success of the A1 Ring, told CNN.

“The asphalt is the same except for the start-finish straight, which because of construction was disturbed.

“I don’t know if it’s one of my best track but it’s a very, very good track. The drivers like it and the atmosphere is amazing.”

Over the crest of the first corner and beyond the fans’ zone which pumps with music spun by live DJs, lie the remains of the Osterreichring, the original home of the Austrian GP from 1970 and the fearsome Hella Licht curve which claimed the life of American Mark Donohue in 1975.

Some seasoned F1 journalists took the chance to skip the boundaries of the Red Bull Ring and revisit old ghosts buried in the asphalt.

Mateschitz, the shy septuagenarian with the youthful spirit, has not reinvented the wheel in F1, or the track in Austria.

But his recipe for success has been to blend the old with the new to resurrect a thrilling Austrian GP for the next generation.

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