Sabine Schmitz – the German professional racing driver who presented on BBC motoring programme Top Gear from 2016 to 2020 – has died at the age of 51 after a battle with cancer.
A legend of the sport, Schmitz was dubbed the “Queen of the Nürburgring”, the legendary racing track at which she became an infamous "Ring Taxi" driver, shuttling fans around the 21 km circuit at high speeds.
The iconic German track revealed the news of her death in a statement, saying it had 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!"
Here is everything you need to know about her.
Who was Sabine Schmitz?
Scmitz grew up around motor racing from a young age.
She was raised in west Germany in the basement of her parents’ restaurant, which was located within the perimeter of the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the racing circuit that loops around the village of Nürburg.
Her first taste for competitive driving came in the form of drives in the family car around the track with her two sisters.
Her first major wins came in 1996 and 1997 when she and co-driver Johannes Scheid won the 24 Hours Nürburgring, a 24-hour annual touring car and GT endurance racing event that takes place on the track.
Significant wins in her cars of choice (BMWs and Porsches) came in 1998, 2006, 2007, and 2008, and Schmitz quickly became a notable name in motor sport.
She gained more widespread attention with the public as one of the two BMW M5 "ring taxi" drivers around the Nürburgring; she estimated that she had completed laps of the Nürburgring more than 20,000 times over the course of her career.
Her familiarity with the track allowed her to drive faster and more entertaining than other drivers, a certain thrill ride for the daring fans in the passenger’s seat.
When was she on Top Gear?
Schmitz’ unusual claim to fame as "the fastest taxi driver in the world" coupled with her charisma led to her becoming an occasional motor sport commentator in Germany known for her cheerfully dry delivery, and in 2006, she began hosting German motoring show German television D Motor.
She first appeared on Top Gear in 2004, besting then presenter Jeremy Clarkson in a time-trial around the Nürburgring by 47 seconds, and gleefully quipping she could beat his time “in a van”.
When trying to film the segment, the film crew were unable to keep up, and had to turn to the skills of a Jaguar test driver to pilot the camera-mounted car to follow the action.
Following a number of guest appearances, Schmitz was revealed as one of the new presenters of the revamped show in 2016, following Clarkson and the original presenting trio’s departure from Top Gear.
She appeared alongside Chris Evans, Matt LeBlanc, and Paddy McGuinness and Andrew Flintoff between 2016 and 2020.
How long was she ill for?
In an emotional Facebook post last year, Schmitz revealed she had been suffering from "an extremely persistent cancer" since late 2017, but that her condition had been improving.
"Dear friends of professional motor sport," she wrote, "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.”
Despite her health looking positive, she said she had relapsed during the Covid-19 pandemic, and needed to undergo cancer treatment again.
She died on 17 March 2021.