After taking home his 50th F1 win title at the United States GP, learn how Mad Max, Christian Horner, and Co. are building a billion-dollar brand and growing a sport abroad.
Across America, the Red Bull brand is a giant, claiming pole position in the $20 billion US energy drink market.
Last year alone, Red Bull moved 189 million cases of carbonated oomph, selling silver cans in abundance to everyone from 7-Eleven shoppers starting their workday to Vegas clubgoers prolonging their nights.
Despite Red Bull’s Austrian origin, the multibillion-dollar beverage brand has absolutely exploded since first arriving stateside in 1996. The drink meant to give you wings flies off shelves and accounts for well over $1 billion in annual American sales alone.
However, a hemisphere away, Red Bull bestows not just wings, but wheels, energizing today’s most powerful Formula 1 team.
Since sponsoring the Sauber squad back in 1995, Red Bull Racing has surged to the top of F1. In fewer than three decades, the fuel company for humans has ascended to the toast of international racing, gassing up many of the sport’s biggest stars and becoming a destination team for talent all over the world.
A Formula 1 force that current champs came up clamoring over as kids.
“I saw them racing when I was still in go-karting,” reigning three-time F1 world champion Red Bull driver Max Verstappen told Boardroom. “The team has been along for a while and doing well for a while. I thought it’d be nice to one day drive for them.”
Nice has been an understatement.
Since his come-up in the Netherlands as the son of a driver, Verstappen has become the golden boy for Oracle Red Bull, winning his 50th Formula 1 race over the weekend in Austin, Texas just weeks removed from his 26th birthday.
Burning rubber in front of an American market that grew up watching stick figures fly in those iconic commercials, Verstappen is now the one juicing the Red Bull brand in a bold, blazing, luxury space befitting F1’s global gaudiness.
Having taken home the title in the last five US-based Grand Prix races, Verstappen and Red Bull are akin to domestic dynasties like the ’90s Dallas Cowboys or the Golden State Warriors‘ ongoing run. The Oracle-sponsored team is waving their flag in front of American fans finding out about F1 for the first time.
It’s a position of international influence that few in the sports world possess. It’s also a massive opportunity for expansion.
So, how does Oracle Red Bull Racing look to sustain such dominance and open up the American market even more? Boardroom caught up with the team in Texas to find out just that.
From Surviving to Thriving
When Christian Horner took over as Team Principal of Red Bull Racing in 2005, the outfit was on the rise yet still in pursuit of its first world championship.
Now, 18 years, six Constructors’ titles, and seven Drivers’ crowns later, both the scale of expectations and the size of the workforce around Horner has shifted.
“It was 450 people when I came into the sport,” the team boss told Boardroom. “We’re now over 1,600.”
Horner may be the one helming an outfit boasting over a thousand employees these days, but his transcendent wheelman is the brand’s biggest breadwinner — and one of the most popular figures in global sport.
Since signing on with Red Bull Racing in 2016, Mad Max has made a profound impact on a team looking to recapture glory after Sebastian Vettel’s four straight titles from 2010 to 2013.
Upon entry, that meant making four podiums in his first eight races.
Today, it means making $55 million in racing salary alone this season. As he wins Grand Prix after Grand Prix, he’s proven to be worth every penny to Red Bull.
“They gave me the opportunity to get to Formula 1,” Verstappen said of his employer. “Since then, we’ve been growing together and working together to get back to the top.”
Currently, the top is where Verstappen resides. He’s medaling on Forbes lists where young athletes are concerned and dominating his day job in a resounding fashion.
“I like where I am,” said Verstappen. “I want to keep on winning.”
The sum of said success is a Red Bull Racing Team valued at $2.6 billion.
When considering the competition, Oracle Red Bull resides beneath only Ferrari and Mercedes when accounting for all F1 team valuations. Despite starting as an energy drink 37 years ago in Austria, Red Bull is currently the most dominant team in F1 with no close second, speeding past the likes of Aston Martin and Alpine in the value rankings over the past several years.
It comes down to not just leadership and star power, but constant innovation with regards to technology and partnerships alike.
“The business has evolved so much,” Horner said. “So many new partners; the team has expanded significantly. We’re making our own engines now and we have an advanced technology section of the business.”
From the factory to the wind tunnel lab to the Grand Prix track, that expansion is felt by all members of the 1,600-person squad.
“What makes the team unique is the level of commitment everyone has within the team,” Red Bull driver Sergio “Checo” Pérez told Boardroom. “Always looking for perfection. The history of the team and coming to a top team? The challenge of it is amazing.”
So amazing that companies in just about every industry aside from beverages and auto racing are ponying up to partner.
Backed by tech firm Oracle as part of a $500 million deal, the American computer company that calls Austin, TX home is invested in ascending Red Bull on track and in America. One could say it’s the equivalent of Samsung sponsoring a Premier League team with wearable insight — only if they were able to host an annual playoff game in their backyard.
With multiple millions poured into Red Bull racing from an innovation and athlete standpoint, the fruits of the labor are all aligning this magical season.
So, just how does a dynasty based in the UK make an even bigger mark in the US?
Over the last 27 years in America, Red Bull has become not just a beverage brand, but a name synonymous with energy as such.
From fueling soccer clubs to sponsoring breakdancing competitions, Red Bull’s brand has been injected into every aspect of American culture from nightlife to gaming, beloved by extroverts and introverts alike.
Never on empty, the challenge Red Bull team takes on with the rise of Formula 1 racing is how to make a traditionally Eurocentric pastime even bigger across the pond.
“Formula 1 has been flying,” Horner said, “especially in the last few years.”
Some of this growth comes from an increase in US Grand Prix races and TV deals placing competitions on ESPN and ABC.
A huge component of F1’s skyrocketing success in America, however, is one very special Netflix reality docuseries.
“The growth in the US? You’ve gotta give a lot of credit to Drive to Survive and the fanbase it’s brought into the sport,” said Horner. “Particularly engaging a younger demographic and more female demographic as well.”
While the man married to Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell has the taste-making verve to bring Oracle Red Bull Racing to American palettes by way of premium television and an appetite for speed, he’s perfecting the recipe of appealing to the emerging US market rather than force-feeding what works overseas.
This means launching special liveries — the official term for a car’s color scheme and decal layout — tailor-made for America.
Such a special car came down from the skies of Texas, namely the new one debuted by Mad Max in his big Oct. 22 win at the Circuit of the Americas.
These custom touches, combined with a big brand marketing strategy built on making moments rather than pushing product, are already forging connections with American fans.
“It’s embracing Austin and the US,” Horner said. “We don’t do it very often, but getting the fans to come up with something for the three US races? I think it’s great that we’ve got these races.”
It doesn’t hurt that stateside circuits have been especially kind to Red Bull Racing, either.
Having won three straight US GPs, the Britain-based club is stating a case as America’s team despite their faraway origins. Looking ahead, the sport could be one homegrown breakout driver away from truly breaking through in the USA, where its audience still lags well behind NASCAR.
“I think we need an American driver that’s running at the front of Formula 1,” Horner said. “I think that will really turn the nation on when they’ve got a proper [driver] to back. The fact that Max has it in the Netherlands and Checo has it in Mexico? If the US had that, it could be insane.”
Insane eventually, ascending for now — Florida’s own Logan Sargeant of Williams Racing scored his first point in the standings in Austin as he nears the end of his first F1 campaign.
This year, fan enthusiasm dictates that Oracle Red Bull’s American icon may as well be Verstappen despite his Dutch and Belgian origins.
Though the search for a domestic driver to carry the torch is one to monitor, watching F1’s Stephen Curry cook up even more wins and enhance his profile away from the track is a fair focal point in the meantime.
“There’s a lot of things that I’m looking at and doing at the moment,” Verstappen said. “But the main focus is still F1.”
Hopefully, for an energetic American market fueled by Red Bull for nearly three decades, Formula 1 also becomes a main focus.
It’s all there on the long road to converting millions of cans into millions of fans.
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