In 1996, Schmitz became the first woman to win the 24 Hours Nürburgring, an annual 24-hour touring car and GT endurance racing event. She repeated the feat a year later, and became known as the “Queen of the Nürburgring.”
Schmitz gained wider recognition in 2004 after her inaugural appearance on Top Gear, where she bested Jeremy Clarkson’s best lap around the Nürburgring in a Jaguar S-Type by 47 seconds. Schmitz was brought back for two additional episodes during the Clarkson era, in 2005 and 2008.
“Terrible news about Sabine Schmitz,” Clarkson wrote on Twitter. “Such a sunny person and so full of beans.” Added Richard Hammond, “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.”
In 2016, Schmitz returned to Top Gear as an official presenter of the post-Clarkson era. She made her final appearance in October, during Season 28.
“Sabine was a beloved member of the Top Gear family and presenting team since 2016, having first appeared on the show in 2004, and everyone who had the pleasure of working with her on the team is in shock at this news,” executive producer Clare Pizey said in a statement. “The ‘Queen of the Nurburgring,’ Sabine radiated positivity, always wore her cheeky smile no matter how hard things got — and was a force of nature for women drivers in the motoring world. Like everyone else who knew her, we will truly miss her — Sabine really was one of a kind. Our thoughts are with her partner Klaus who was always by her side and who we welcomed to Dunsfold many times, and her family in Germany.”
Keep scrolling for additional tributes…
I never thought car makers should be at the ‘Ring, but I always thought Sabine Schmitz should, and would, be. Rotten news. #RIP
— James May (@MrJamesMay) March 17, 2021
She gave me pointers on how to drive a Ferrari very fast and hunted me down in a banger race. Brilliantly bonkers and an amazing human being! RIP the great Sabine Schmitz. pic.twitter.com/awtbOnMD90
— Paddy McGuinness 💙 (@PaddyMcGuinness) March 17, 2021
Rest in peace you wonderful, powerful, hilarious person. pic.twitter.com/nwXgBwZsbE
— chris harris (@harrismonkey) March 17, 2021
The Nürburgring has lost its most famous female racing driver.
Sabine Schmitz passed away far too early after a long illness. We will miss her and her cheerful nature. Rest in peace Sabine! pic.twitter.com/MFKNNFOSDU
— Nürburgring (@nuerburgring) March 17, 2021