Our small tribute to the legendary racing driver and larger than life television personality, who sadly passed away on the 16th of March after a hard fought, private battle with cancer. She is deeply missed
I’ve never been one to indulge in cosmic predictions such as fate, but in the case of Sabine Schmitz I’ll make an exception. Sabine seemed destined to become the ‘Queen of the Nürburgring’ - she was born within the expanse of the circuit, growing up at the Hotel am Tiergarten owned by her parents, just 300 metres from the track entrance. It was an establishment often frequented by famous GP drivers such as Alberto Ascari and Nelson Piquet whenever Formula One came to town.
Her first lap occurred at just six months old in the back seat of her father’s BMW - you get the impression if she could talk at the time she’d have been bellowing out “schnell, schnell”. Perhaps it was her first word. She became fazcinated by speed from that moment onwards, be it roller skating, cycling or horse riding - she had to be the fastest. By thirteen she knew her purpose was to become a racing driver and at age 17, when most teenagers are lying about their age to get served alcohol, Sabine was fibbing the circuit officials so she could be let out onto the track in her mothers car.
It was a rebellious streak that fuelled her talent, propelling her to become the only woman thus far to win any endurance race - the gruelling Nürburgring 24hrs, back to back in 1996 and 1997. In total her racing career spanned 89 races, with five victories and sixteen podiums. Alongside this Sabine also found the time to become a helicopter pilot and restaurateur.
To most she shot to fame in an episode of Top Gear, acting as Jeremy Clarkson's’ chaperone and instructor as he attempted to lap the fearsome circuit in under ten minutes using a then new 200bhp diesel Jaguar S-Type. Her beauty, effervescent character and derisory analysis of Clarkson’s driving style immediately adorned her to the viewers. After several days of trying a beaming Jeremy returned to the pitlane having completed his task with a second to spare, only to be cut down with the iconic line “I could do that lap time in a van”. Sabine promptly snatched the Jaguar keys and cut 47 seconds from Jeremy’s lap in one attempt. The episode proved so popular Top Gear later dedicated an entire feature to Sabine, returning to the Nürburgring with Richard Hammond and a Ford Transit van. Alas she just fell short of her mammoth task, but not before her chatterbox commentary as she overtook multiple motorbikes and sportscars earned her even further affection - and a recurring guest spot on the show.
But for us it was grainy dial up YouTube videos attempting to chase or taken within her E39 BMW M5 Ring Taxi that won us over. Here was this mad daredevil female who flew over kerb stones and casually drifted corners whilst four up, laughing and joking with her terrified passengers the entire time. She helped cement the lore of the Nürburgring as the ultimate Mecca of car enthusiasm, and despite having completed over 30,000 laps of the circuit, her joy and admiration for the place never dimmed, nor did her sheer lust for life. There was no act, she was warm, genuine and always, always had time for her fans. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but I felt like I knew her.
Sabine retired from racing and television in July 2019, revealing she had been battling persistent cancer since 2017 which had aggressively returned. She passed away aged just 51 and is survived by her husband Klaus Abbelen, and their Frikadelli Racing Team. Her connection to the circuit was absolute, and the recently announced renaming of the first corner to Sabine Schmitz Kurve is a fitting tribute.