Racing driver and Top Gear star Sabine Schmitz dies aged 51 after cancer battle

17 March 2021, 10:16 | Updated: 17 March 2021, 12:07

Sabine Schmitz has died aged 51
Sabine Schmitz has died aged 51. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Racing driver and Top Gear presenter Sabine Schmitz has died at the age of 51.

Schmitz, the only female winner of annual German race the 24 Hours of Nurburgring, revealed last year that she had been dealing with a rare form of cancer since 2017.

Widely known as 'Queen of the Nurburgring', she first joined Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear in 2004 and became part of the presenting team when the programme was revamped in 2016.

Schmitz with the revamped Top Gear presenting team in 2016
Schmitz with the revamped Top Gear presenting team in 2016. Picture: PA

German race track Nurburgring said in a statement: "The Nurburgring 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!"

Clarkson paid tribute on social media, tweeting: “Terrible news about Sabine Schmitz. Such a sunny person and so full of beans.”

Current Top Gear presenter Paddy McGuinness added: “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.”

"Rest in peace you wonderful, powerful, hilarious person", wrote fellow host Chris Harris.

Clare Pizey, Top Gear's executive producer, said in a statement on behalf of the Top Gear team: "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.

"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."

Tributes have poured in for Schmitz
Tributes have poured in for Schmitz. Picture: PA

Adenau-born Schmitz's first triumph at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring came in 1996 with Johannes Scheid and Hans Widmann in the BMW M3.

She won again the following year with Scheid, Hans-Jurgen Tiemann and Peter Zakowski.

She later impressed with her own team Frikadelli Racing, which she had founded with her husband Klaus Abbelen.

Schmitz announced via social media last year that she was absent from the Nurburgring Endurance Series due to her ongoing battle with cancer.

In the post, she said that "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".

Schmitz in January 2020
Schmitz in January 2020. Picture: PA

Formula One paid tribute by saying on Twitter: "We are all deeply saddened to hear that Sabine Schmitz has passed away.

"An incredible talent and wonderful person who made us all smile. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this sad time."

The FIA's Women in Motorsport commission added: "Such sad news about Sabine Schmitz, Queen of the Nurburgring. Our sincere condolences to all her family and friends."

Many more well-known faces have taken to social media to celebrate Schmitz's life, including racing driver Tiff Needell and former Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy.