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Lauda pips IAG to the finish line to win back Niki

Niki Lauda (AUT) Mercedes Non-Executive Chairman
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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Niki Lauda has succeeded in his bid to buy back budget airline Niki.

He founded the business in 2003, but sold his remaining stake to Air Berlin in 2011. Air Berlin itself subsequently collapsed in August last year, leaving Niki among the assets being sold off by administrators.

Lauda's initial attempt to negotiate a deal were thwarted when courts ruled insolvency proceedings would be held in Germany. A provisional deal to sell Niki to British Airways parent IAG was agreed.

However Lauda successfully appealed for the matter to be returned to Austrian jurisdiction. He submitted a bid before the new deadline, and creditors met on Monday evening to decide the outcome.

“In the early hours of this morning Laudamotion GmbH emerged from a transparent bidding process as the best bidder,” said the administrators. The purchase price was not disclosed.

"I am delighted,” Lauda told Austrian broadcaster Oe24. “There’s no doubt that I have always put my heart and soul into Niki.”

Lauda told Austria’s ORF radio station that the Niki name was now likely to be dropped. Instead he will integrate the carrier into his Laudamotion business.

Lauda is expected to keep almost all of the airline's 1,000 employees in work. He said that he had secured 15 aircraft and planned to relaunch operations by the end of March.

The revived airline will focus on tourist destinations in Turkey, Greece and Spain. Lauda is planning to work with an operating partner to cover services previously provided by Air Berlin such as ticket sales, crew planning and marketing.

"We are prepared to start such discussions shortly," a Thomas Cook spokesman told Reuters. ”Laudamotion has asked us for operational support services to enable Niki’s flight operations to restart as quickly as possible."

It's unlikely that Lauda's new acquisition will take any time away from his position as non-executive chairman of Mercedes. The 68-year-old recently gave up his role as media pundit for German broadcaster RTL.

"It was a personal decision," he said at the time. "I've done this for 21 years which is long enough."

Lauda still attends almost every Grand Prix race. However, he recently hinted that he might retire from his role at Mercedes after 2020.

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