Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz dies at age 78

Red Bull owner and co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz has died, the company's Formula One team confirmed Saturday. He was 78.

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

The Austrian billionaire 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 was keen on extreme sports at an early age and soon brought Red Bull into the sporting world, where it has enjoyed success across multiple disciplines.

It has done so most famously in Formula One.

Red Bull has won four constructors' championships (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) and six drivers' titles, the most recent being secured by Max Verstappen at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The team is on the verge of clinching its fifth constructors' title and can do so at the U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday.

"It's been hard news for everyone -- what he has meant for Red Bull, and of course the sport, and especially for me,'' Verstappen said.

"What he has done for me, my career so far, and in general my life, it's really tough, it's a really tough day. There's still a race ahead and we're going to try to make him proud tomorrow.''

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of motorsports governing body FIA, called Mateschitz "a towering figure in motorsport.''

"The thoughts of all the FIA family are with his loved ones at this time and he will be greatly missed," he said.

After years of involvement in the sport as a sponsor, Red Bull purchased the Jaguar F1 team in 2004 and the Minardi team in 2005. The latter, which operates out of Italy as the company's junior team, was renamed Toro Rosso and today competes as AlphaTauri.

He also purchased the F1 circuit in the town of Spielberg, which is now named the Red Bull Ring and hosts the Austrian Grand Prix.

Red Bull's famous driver academy has helped produce two world champions, Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel, as well as grand prix race winners in Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly.

"Desperately sad news that we've learned of the passing of Dietrich," Red Bull F1 boss Christian Horner said Saturday. "He was a remarkable man, what he's done for so many, not just in Formula One but in the Red Bull business and the Red Bull world across all the sporting platforms.

"He was a man that inspired so much. He is the reason that we are here, it was his passion for Formula One and his vision that is the reason he has two teams in the Formula One pit lane. He was always enthusiastic, encouraging and supportive on the good days and the bad days.

"So many owe him so much and I feel privileged to have known him and I think for the whole team now, despite the shock, we are going to do exactly what he would have wanted, which is to go out there and with his cars do the very best that we can and to try and close the constructors' championship down. It's important that we recognise everything he has contributed to the sport, but not just the sport because it goes way, way beyond that."

Red Bull also operates soccer teams in top divisions across Austria, Germany, Brazil and the U.S. The company started by buying Austrian club SV Austria Salzburg in 2005 and rebranding it in the company colors under the name Red Bull Salzburg.

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

Red Bull also has contracts with hundreds of athletes in various sports.

And Red Bull has hockey teams EHC Munchen and EC Red Bull Salzburg, and owns esports team Red Bull OG.

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

Under Mateschitz' stewardship, Red Bull quickly increased its market share, first in Europe, then in the U.S., helped by marketing campaigns promoting the drink's claimed stimulating properties and extensive sponsorship agreements in motorsports, soccer, extreme sports and the music industry.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.