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Amid the cowboy buzz of the Circuit of the Americas paddock hung a dark cloud at this year’s U.S. Grand Prix.

The atmosphere was tense as the cost cap breach saga dragged on, overshadowing Max Verstappen’s second straight world title that he won in Japan two weeks before. And while conversations are ongoing between Red Bull and the FIA about a possible settlement agreement, it hasn’t stopped rivals from voicing their opinions on the matter.

But, things took a turn within the Red Bull camp Saturday before qualifying. News broke that Red Bull cofounder and owner Dietrich Mateschitz died at 78 years old. The Austrian businessman led the energy drink company into motorsports in the mid-1990s, and by 2005, he owned two Formula One teams—Red Bull Racing and what’s now known as AlphaTauri.

Red Bull and the FIA paused cost cap talks in the wake of his death.

Tributes poured in across the F1 paddock about Red Bull and AlphaTauri‘s quiet patriarch. Come Sunday’s race, Formula One had a moment of applause in his honor, and as all four drivers stood alongside one another, Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz, Alex Albon and Sebastian Vettel (who won four world championships with Red Bull) stood near the front with them as the Austrian businessman played a significant role in each of their careers.

“I knew Dietrich quite a lot and I’ve also been helped a lot by his support in the past,” Sainz said Saturday. “I wouldn’t have reached F1 without him.

“The amount of things that he’s done for motorsport, not only F1 and young drivers, but if you think about how many Red Bull logos are out there in all the categories from MotoGP to F1, to all the sports that you can think about and how he has supported young talent, how many people have been supported by him and by his vision, by his idea, is crazy.”

U.S. Grand Prix pays tribute to Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Didi Mateschitz in Austin.

“Dietrich was a very private man, but he was passionate—passionate about life, passionate about sport and he was especially passionate about Formula One,” Horner said.

Pierre Gasly said Saturday, in part, “It was just his personality and his way of managing things. He was extremely passionate and loved sport and F1. He had two F1 teams for over 15 years, and even big brands like Mercedes and Ferrari didn’t commit to F1 like that. It’s just incredible what he’s done for all of us, but also sport in general.”

Verstappen said after qualifying that the result “doesn’t matter” after the news of Mateschitz’s death, adding that he met with the team owner just a few weeks ago. Although both Ferrari drivers finished in the top two with Sainz taking pole, Charles Leclerc dropped back 10 spots on Sunday’s grid due to an engine penalty, placing Verstappen on the front row.

Heading into the U.S. Grand Prix, Red Bull looked poised to take the constructors’ title. It had pulled ahead of Ferrari significantly thanks to the one-two punch of Verstappen and Sergio Pérez, who have shared the podium six times this season and have a combined 15 wins in 2022. For the battle to extend to Mexico, Ferrari needed to outscore Red Bull by 19 points, but with Sainz out after an opening lap collision, that rested on Leclerc’s shoulders.

Winning a team title is an emotional task, particularly when one team has dominated for the last eight seasons. And for a moment, it looked like the fight would continue another week after Red Bull had a poor pitstop with Verstappen after a wheel gun failure, and Leclerc emerged ahead of him from the pits. The young Dutchman not only had to get around the Monégasque star but also navigate past seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton who looked poised to take his first victory of the season.

“It was almost as if it had been scripted for him to have to come back through the field,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “I think Dietrich would have quite enjoyed that race, from above, to see us overtake a Mercedes with five, six laps to go to win the constructors’ championship.

“I think he would have been very proud about that race [Sunday].”

Horner added, “Dietrich is such a giant of a man and has done so much, not just for Red Bull Racing but for Formula One, and so we felt determined to go out and really honor him in a way that would make him proud. There were no black armbands, no minute’s silence—it was the embodiment of celebrating him, and the best way to do that was the performance on circuit.”

Verstappen’s 13th win not only handed Red Bull its first constructors’ title since 2013, but it also made the Dutchman equal with Michael Schumacher and Vettel for the most race wins in one season. It is just the latest moment demonstrating Red Bull’s sheer dominance and if Formula One is heading into an era focused on the Milton Keynes–based team.

“It certainly means a lot for us. You know, it’s been a big dominance by Mercedes in the last few years,” Pérez said to F1, “so I really hope that the era of Red Bull starts now and that we are able to dominate the next few years.”

Although Ferrari and Mercedes have posed as potential threats during the season, Red Bull’s straight-line speed gives the team “very good protection” over the rest of the field, Ferrari racing director Laurent Mekies said Sunday.

“It is not the first race where they are racing with a top speed advantage on all the other competitors,” Mekies said after the race. “They managed to deal with that and certainly when there are some fights like today, it is an advantage. It is something that we always try to balance between lap time and top speed.

“The bottom line is they had a bit of a pace advantage today, as they did for most Sundays this year.”

After the race, Leclerc said it was obvious where Ferrari needs to improve. “Over one lap, we are really strong, and I think we are on the same level as Red Bull; over the course of a race, then we are struggling with tires,” Leclerc said. “So we are putting our effort into that, and I hope that we’ll see the result as soon as next year. Looking back at the season, there’s been not only tire degradation, but there has been mistakes, strategy, communication and tire management is one of those things.”

Mercedes took the last eight constructors’ championship, a streak that began in 2014 when the turbo-hybrid engines were introduced. However, its W13 struggled with pace at the beginning of this season, and had to slowly climb back. Hamilton’s performance in Austin showed Mercedes’s strength in high-speed corners, but the weaknesses are still evident—like when the Brit was overrun by Verstappen’s straight-line speed on Turn 12. “The DNA of the car is going to change for next year,” team principal Toto Wolff said after the race. “That doesn’t necessarily mean the bodywork is going to look different, but certainly what is part of the DNA of the car, the architecture, will change for next year.”

Hamilton feels that “it is too early to say” if we’re entering a Verstappen era with Red Bull. “If we get into next year and they’re dominating again, then yes, but the Ferraris have been quicker than them throughout qualifying,” Hamilton said. “Now, all they need to do is pick up their race pace, and they’ll be right with them. I think we’ve got a much, much bigger step and steeper hill to climb, but hopefully not impossible.”

Whether Formula One has entered a new winner era is left to be determined based on how Ferrari and Mercedes approach next year’s car. But for now, this season—and the 2022 United States Grand Prix—showed the heart of Red Bull, which was Mateschitz.

“This means everything to us. It’s been such a journey. Dietrich was a very private man, but he was passionate—passionate about life, passionate about sport and he was especially passionate about Formula One,” Horner said to Sky Sports F1. “He had a dream, which was to have a Formula One team. He did that and, in the end, he had two. He gave us all an opportunity. He believed in us, he backed us and this is for him.”

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