Tributes paid to Sabine Schmitz – the Queen of the Nürburgring who took to the track without her mum’s permission

by James Mills
17 March 2021 3 min read
Tributes paid to Sabine Schmitz – the Queen of the Nürburgring who took to the track without her mum’s permission

In the eyes of motorsport fans, there can be no tougher race than the 24 Hours Nürburgring. Which makes the passing of Sabine Schmitz, the only female winner of the gruelling event, especially poignant. The motor racing community has lost one of the greatest drivers of the modern era, an unsung hero who mixed it with men and showed them the way to the chequered flag.

Schmitz died at the age of 51, after revealing last year that she was battling a rare form of cancer which, in her words, returned “with full force” last July after it was first diagnosed and treated in 2017.  

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Away from the race track, Schmitz became an unlikely household name in Britain after making her first memorable guest appearance on BBC Top Gear, in 2004. She instructed Jeremy Clarkson as he drove a Jaguar S-Type R around the Nürburgring circuit, and quipped she could beat his time driving a Ford Transit van. Sure enough, she went on to accept the challenge – falling short by a mere nine seconds, despite her diesel van boasting a fraction of the power of Clarkson’s supercharged V8 Jaguar.

Clarkson paid tribute to Schmitz, saying: “Terrible news about Sabine Schmitz. Such a sunny person and so full of beans.”

He feelings were echoed by Richard Hammond, who wrote: “Very sad to hear of the passing of Sabine Schmitz, a proper driving legend who’ll be sadly missed by many. The Ring has lost its Queen. RIP”

Adenau-born Schmitz grew up in the village of Nurburg, where her family ran a modest hotel. There she would mix with the great and the good from motor racing, and by the age of 13 Schmitz says she made up her mind to become a racing driver.

She would need to wait to be 18, when she could hold a driving license, to drive around the Nürburgring circuit, but by the time she reached 17 the urge was too great to resist and she ‘borrowed’ her mother’s BMW and, without her permission, drove it to the circuit for her first experience of the so-called Green Hell.

As she recounts: “The guy on the track… he said, ‘Oh Sabine, you are already 18? You’ve got your driving license?’ I said, ‘Oh, yes! Bye bye.’ Vroom! And then I would go on the track.”

Schmitz took her first victory at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring in 1996 with Johannes Scheid and Hans Widmann, driving a BMW M3. She won again the following year with Scheid, Hans-Jürgen Tiemann and Peter Zakowski.

In years gone by, Schmitz drove for BMW’s Ring Taxi service, which offered paying passengers a high-speed lap of the 12.9 mile circuit in one of a fleet of BMW M5s. Nearly all passengers would hope to secure a place in Schmitz’s car, leading her to establish her own Ring Taxi service and earning her the nickname, “Queen of the Nürburgring.”

She would return to Top Gear as a presenter in 2016, as part of the short-lived lineup that was led by Chris Evans.

The FIA’s Women in Motorsport commission said it was “Such sad news about Sabine Schmitz, Queen of the Nürburgring. Our sincere condolences to all her family and friends.”

After withdrawing from a race last July, Schmitz shared news of her health with fans.

“Dear friends of professional motor sport. Many of you have probably wondered why I was on the list of participants on our Porsche in the NSL and then didn’t drive after all. I would like to provide enlightenment here, I think I owe it to my/our fans! Since the end of 2017, I have been fighting an extremely persistent cancer that has not been eliminated with the resources so far. It got a little better – but now it’s come back with full force.

“Now I have to draw all the strength and nerve to master the next powerful therapies … hoping something [good] will happen. So I say goodbye ‘probably’ for the first time this season. In addition, I would like to thank everyone for their help and support in my everyday life, and encouragement in writing!”

Fans are now calling for a corner of the Nordschleife to be named in memory of one of its most-loved figures. At the time of writing, nearly 28,000 people had signed a petition started by Dale Lomas. Those that wish to sign it can visit the petition by clicking here.

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  • Sean says:

    This is such sad news !
    RIP Sabine you’ll be missed by so many people.

  • John Fitzgerald says:

    Sad news

  • Stephen says:

    RIP Sabine you were great behind the wheel of any car 🙏

  • John says:

    RIP queen of the track you will be sadly missed xx

  • Dave g says:

    Rip Sabine Heaven has there Queen ❤️❤️

  • Gavin says:

    A real queen of speed, you will be missed by all

  • Nick Bywater says:


  • andrew says:

    god bless you, a skilled and experienced driver, that would give any man a run for their money. rest in piece queen of the nurberg, rest in piece sabine💖

  • Gerald Moore says:

    So sad to hear of Sabines passing. I loved her on Top Gear, such a beautiful, good humoured and talented young lady.
    Rest in Peace Sabine.

  • Richard Thomas says:

    Sabine Schmitz, thank you for the joy and ‘Spirit of Motorsport` that you shared with us. May you R.I.P.

  • Les Dalton says:

    The outpouring of sadness and grief that has previously been posted, is a true reflection of the admiration, love even, that thousands of us had for this beautiful, bubbly and amazingly talented young Lady. I was fortunate to be one of her FB friends and she kept us pretty much up to date with her current health situation. God Bless you Sabina, and may you Rest in Eternal Peace, no more pain for you now. You may have left us all distraught at your passing, and that bright shining star 🌟 over the Eiffel mountains, has gone out forever, and the world is a poorer place for your passing. Your gorgeous smile will undoubtedly light up Heaven.Sincere condolences to your family,

  • Roy wakeford says:

    Rest in peace sweetheart, not only were you Queen of the track but a very funny lady to boot! God bless!💖

  • Kirk says:

    The loss of a true motor sport legend and fantastic presenter and overall personality that can’t be replaced, RIP Sabine, condolences to all family and friends

  • Del says:

    So sad,to lose a legend,and a great inspiration for all young female drivers RIP.

  • Ian says:

    RIP Sabine taken much too soon

  • Stu Beadle says:

    Such sad news a legend of racing all of the world.
    Thought’s are with your family & friends RIP Sabine

  • David Brown says:

    A sad loss. I used to enjoy watching her bringing cocky male drivers down to earth. (JC)
    I think she deserves a tribute programme for all her fans and family

  • Grant says:

    God bless, Sabrina. We need joy and fun in our lives like you gave us. You will be remembered as a shining light xx

  • Rob Davies says:

    What a brave Lady a true sports woman but so brave to tell her story of cancer so sad she has lost her life far too early with so much talent and a beautiful woman as well boy she showed the guys a thing or too RIP Sabine you were loved by everyone who watched the television 🙏🙏🙏🌹🌹🌹

  • Paul says:

    😢queen of top gear as well, rip

  • Rodney Rushton says:

    It is a very sad time for all of us to lose such an Amazing Lady – so talented, to such a cruel disease which has twice crossed my path though I did not know Her, and can only say Rest in Peace Sabine for the pleasure you have given to us all.
    For the last 10 years I have counted my Blessings, but nobody really escapes unscathed and can look forward to a future that in your mind can no longer be counted on. I just try my best to be kind and civil towards people, to quote Robert Louis Stevenson “”Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”

  • malcolm starling says:

    I am absolutley gutted hearing this news Sabine was one of the hi lights of motor racing if she said she could do –it was a done deal –she brought smiles to every one who knew her and i loved the times she to Jeza Clarkson around the ring –i for one will miss this amazing driver God Bless x RIP

  • Grahame Coker says:

    Another great name from the sporting (?) world that has left us this year and even three months past….very sad loss to us all.

  • Clive says:

    Every now and again we lose a legend this is one of those occasions R.I.P.

  • Tommy Beech says:

    R.I.P Queen of Nuremberg ring such a lovely woman who we took to our hearts

  • Tommy Beech says:

    R.I.P Queen of the racing world such a lovely woman who we took to our hearts Sleep well Sleep sound xx

  • Eddie C says:


  • Peter James Morrison says:

    God must have nurburgring up there in heaven because why else would he have a use for you? You’re far too young to have been taken. Race freely and rest in peace. God bless you.

  • Jimmy Burns says:

    God made Sabine then broke the mould there will not be another as talented as she. Sadly missed RIP.

  • David Langley John Bridges says:

    A brilliant and talented driver with a great sense of humour and humility. We know that she inspired many to try the Nurburgring, finding out that it needs skill and guts to succeed because of the complex challenges it offers.

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