Our small tribute to the legendary racing driver and larger-than-life television personality, who sadly passed away on the 16th of March 2021 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 Grand Prix drivers such as Alberto Ascari and Nelson Piquet whenever Formula One came to town.
Her first lap of the race track 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 mother's 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 24 hours, back to back in 1996 and 1997. In total, her racing career spanned 89 races, with five victories and sixteen podiums. Alongside this Sabine still found the time to become a helicopter pilot and restaurateur. Sabine was also a strong supporter and ambassador for children and animals in need charities, such as Tierhilfe Angel da Relva.
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. Later Sabine would earn a recurring guest spot on the show alongside the new generation of presenters such as Chris Harris and Paddy McGuinness.
But for us, it was the 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 a long illness of 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 of the Nordschleife to Sabine Schmitz Kurve is a fitting tribute.
Images are property of Frikadelli Racing Gmbh