We cannot talk about women in motorsport without talking about the pioneers who paved the way for so many others. Sabine Schmitz was one of them.
Born in 1969, the German driver could’ve had a very different life. Sabine started out following her parents’ path and initially trained to join the same profession as them in the hotelier sector. But having grown up near one of the world's most legendary circuits, Sabine's destiny was meant to be quite different. She was destined to rule over the Nürburgring.
The some 20,000 laps she estimated to have made around the Green Hell are just one proof of this. Furthermore, one of her greatest achievements was becoming the only female racing driver to win the Nurburgring 24 Hours. At the wheel of a BMW M3 Group N, co-driven by Johannes Scheid, Sabine has twice achieved the remarkable feat of winning what’s considered to be one of the world's toughest races - winning the N24 in 1996 and again the following year. In 2008, she returned to the challenging race, but this time at the wheel of a Porsche. And, once again, she proved her talent by brilliantly claiming third place on the podium.
This perfect command of the mythical circuit was also due to the fact that Sabine became the "world's fastest taxi driver". Indeed, until 2011, Sabine was a driver for the Ring-Taxi, a service offered by BMW which allows customers to take a lap around the Nordschleife in a BMW M5.
This led to Sabine being recognised and invited as an occasional guest commentator on various television programmes. Her energy and good humour began to conquer the UK in 2002 when she appeared on the BBC programme Meets the Neighbours.
Sabine became an important figure in the TV show Top Gear, in which she appeared for the first time in 2004. During her time on the show, she treated the audience to great moments such as driving a Ford Transit diesel van in an attempt to beat a host’s time in a Jaguar, which she missed by just nine seconds. In 2016, Schmitz became one of the show's presenters alongside Chris Evans.
Unfortunately, in 2017 she was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away in March 2021, much to the shock of the motorsport world.
What must be remembered about Sabine is above all her life: whether at the wheel of a car, at the helm of Frikadelli Racing, flying a helicopter or in front of the cameras…
Sabine has always risen to the challenge.
As the many tributes left by those who knew and were inspired by her bear witness, Sabine was not only a remarkable racing driver but also an extraordinary human being. In tribute to her memory, the Nurburgring has renamed the first corner of the circuit "Sabine-Schmitz-kurve".
Sabine was, is and always will be a motorsport icon who commands respect.