Babe of the Month: Sabine Schmitz
March’s Babe of the Month sadly passed away just two weeks ago, so now seems a good time to remember her achievements with the focus deserved.
Unless you’re a petrolhead or fan of the BBC programme Top Gear, you may not have heard of Sabine Schmitz – but she has truly paved the way for women in the motor industry and her legacy will likely continue to do so.
“I was always fast: on roller-skates, on a bicycle. It didn’t matter what, it just had to be fast” – Sabine Schmitz
The youngest of three sisters, Sabine was born in Adenau, Germany, and lived in Nürburg, just a few miles from the world-famous Nürburgring motorsports track, a 15-mile circuit that is known as one of the toughest to drive in the world. At 17, Sabine ‘borrowed’ her mum’s car without her knowledge and without a licence, saying “she was always wondering why all the petrol had gone again..”.
“Thousands of people threw up in my car”
– Sabine Schmitz on driving tourists around the Nürburgring
The family had occasionally driven their family car around the circuit, and as soon as they were old enough to safely drive, all three Schmitz sisters took up motor racing. Sabine showed an early talent for the sport and continued beyond the driving career of her two elder siters, going on to collect several victories and focus on the sport as more than a hobby. At the time the sisters weren’t the only women driving in races – but all of the ‘celebrity’ level drivers were male, and motorsports were certainly male-dominated.
“Hold tight old man” – Sabine Schmitz
In 1996, Sabine entered the 24hr Nürburgring race, an endurance race aimed at amateurs that sees some 200 cars take to the track. Along with her co-driver Johannes Schneid, Sabine won the race and was the first ever woman to do so, making headlines around the world. The year after, 1997, with a new co-driver, she was determined to show that a woman winning wasn’t a ‘fluke’. She won again; truly cementing the narrative that female drivers could not just compete with the status quo champions that were men – but that they could beat them, too. These wins saw Sabine gain the nickname ‘Queen of the Nürburgring’, a title that stuck for the rest of her life.
“She is both German and a woman: a combination of traits so alien to the majority of Top Gear viewers that the whole show would probably self-destruct within an hour of her taking the job”
– The Times
Sabine continued competing in races but took a job with BMW driving a ‘ring taxi’ around the Nürburgring; driving tourists around the circuit. She wasn’t afraid to go fast or take some sharp corners, and quickly became the most popular driver for visitors to experience the track with. Pretty soon she gained a second nickname, “the fastest taxi drive in the world”.
In 2002, she drove then-Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson around the Nürburgring in her ring taxi. She met Clarkson again in 2004 on Top Gear and after mentoring him to achieve a lap time of 9m59 in a Jaguar S-Type, dropped a seriously damning one-liner: “I tell you something, I do that lap time in a van”. Clarkson, never one to deflate his ego, challenged her to do just that… and she beat him by 47 seconds. Even better, the film crew were unable to keep up with her and so had to deploy an official Jaguar test driver to drive the chase car in order to catch it all on camera. By 2006, Sabine was world famous for her driving and began co-hosting her own motoring show on German television, taking up driving challenges each episode.
“Sabine was a force of nature, inspiring a new generation of motorsport enthusiasts” – Formula 1
In 2015, Sabine was confirmed as a new presenter for Top Gear: the only female presented alongside Chris Evans, Matt LeBlanc, Rory Reid, Chris Harris and Eddie Jordan. Always smiling and never afraid to put the men in their place, she frequently excelled at vehicle challenges and never backed down from an opportunity. It’s estimated she had driven the Nürburgring over 30,000 times – more than anyone else in the world.
Sabine passed away along a long cancer battle on March 16th, 2021, and leaves behind an impressive legacy for women in motorsport.