Standing in the pillar-less basement under Sachin Tendulkar’s house, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world’s greatest batsman’s first love isn’t cricket, but cars. Adorning the walls are framed pictures of some of his favourite cars, along with a blow-up of Michael Schumacher. Parked neatly to one side is a row of BMWs, each one of them freshly polished and gleaming. Sachin is a bit manic about ensuring that his cars look nothing less than pristine. He is known to give his cars the occasional shampoo himself, which he finds is a good way to unwind. “Yes, I am particular about my cars, I care about them and it means a lot to me how they look and how they are maintained. So even my drivers know that when it comes to my cars, they have to give me hundred per cent,” says Sachin.
What he’s most excited about right now is his latest acquisition, a BMW i8. “When I saw it in Mission Impossible, I told BMW that I’ve got to have this car. At that time, I was told it was just a concept, so when it became a production reality and was actually on the streets, I knew I had to get it. Then I remember our Autocar Track Day in London, when we drove many cars together, but you said I’ve got to drive the i8 to understand what handling is. Today I can compliment you for having recommended this car!” says a beaming Sachin, who’s all set to take me for a quick spin in the hybrid supercar.
Setting off from his Bandra residence, Sachin selects eDrive (full electric mode) and discreetly eases the i8 into the early morning traffic, which is building up fast. “It’s so silent, you can hardly hear the car. When I want to drive peacefully without being disturbed, or if I’m in my own world thinking about something, I like to drive it in this mode,” he says. The problem is, Sachin in an i8 is as discreet or inconspicuous as Katrina Kaif would be if she were to stick her head out of a sunroof on Marine Drive. It’s the stunning design of the i8 that first turns heads, and then, when they spot the driver, the crowds just go mad.
However, Sachin modestly blames the car and not himself for the mayhem created. “Driving this car can be quite a challenge because it’s such a traffic-stopper and people keep looking at it. You can control the pace of traffic with it. If you drive fast, people drive fast; and if you drive slow, they all want to stay with you. That’s why I try and avoid driving this car in peak traffic.” Not surprising then that Sachin likes to drive in the wee hours of the morning when Mumbai is still asleep. “If there is too much traffic, I can’t enjoy the drive, because people want to come so close and sometimes even touch the car, which I am not particularly fond of. You’ve also got to be careful when driving and your peripheral awareness is very important. It’s not just about looking ahead, but knowing what’s happening all around you.”
We’ve reached the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and Sachin flicks the i8 into Sport mode. The three-cylinder engine fires up and Sachin floors it. “The instantaneous response is just amazing in this car!” he exclaims, “The instant you want to go, the power is available for you. You don’t need to plan when to overtake or wait for a fraction for the power to kick in at certain revs. It’s the immediate power delivery that hit me when I first drove the car.” In absolute terms, however, the i8, which hits 100kph in a claimed 4.4 seconds isn’t madly quick, and so, does Sachin, who’s used to sub-4-second cars, want a bit of extra oomph? “The car may not be super quick, but the acceleration is different. Being an electric car with four-wheel drive, it’s very quick off the line and is the fastest BMW I’ve driven.”
The thing that impresses Sachin most about the i8 is the handling. He says, “The handling is simply incredible and I think it’s got a lot to do with how the battery is placed and the low centre of gravity. It corners like it’s on rails, and I can tell you that I have driven many cars in my life, and this is the best handling car I’ve driven. I’m not just saying it because I’m a BMW ambassador – I genuinely mean it.”
Though an empty road, especially the Sea Link which is right next to Sachin’s house, gives him the chance to open out his cars, you’ll never find the cricketing legend driving like a lunatic. In fact, he can be a bit overcautious, giving way to cars that cut into his path. “I think accidents take place when you feel nothing can go wrong. You can’t give 50 per cent, and it’s risky if you’re not focusing or concentrating,” he says.
That’s why Sachin loves to drive on a race track. “I loved driving the M3, M4, M5 and M6 at the Chennai track. They all did different things and the track was challenging. On a race track, you can drive the way you want and yes, there are limits, but there are no other cars. When I was driving the M4 on the Buddh circuit, I nearly missed my flight because I couldn’t stop driving!”
We are back at Sachin’s residence and within the closed confines of his porch, he steps out to admire the i8. “I’m amazed with the amount of carbonfibre there is in this car, but that’s what keeps it light. Just look at the finish of the doors. It’s got that natural carbonfibre finish, just like a race car,” he smiles.
Unlike other celebs who would summon their drivers to take charge of their car once the shoot is over, Sachin slots the i8 himself into the car lift which lowers him into the basement. After a stellar cricketing career, it’s a life behind the wheel that keeps him most happy.