There are many factors that have been deliberately introduced to even the playing field in the British Touring Car Championship.
To taste the ultimate glory, a driver has to navigate their way through myriad pitfalls, including normal and option tyres, as well as reversed grids. But what became the biggest handicap in the modern area has been success ballast.
Since 2015, the driver leading the championship has come to each meeting carrying 75kg, which decreases in a sliding scale to 9kg for 10th place.
Those measures are in place to make sure that a driver doesn't run away with the contest should they have the most dominant car.
But the landscape in the BTCC has changed significantly over the last five seasons.
For example, the top 29 on the grid at Silverstone in 2018 was covered by just over one second. In a field that close, fractions matter and the success ballast was becoming an anvil on the ankles of those with real speed.
So there are changes. For 2019, the top level of weight will reduce to 54kg.
The top 10 cars will all carry weight but it will be on a lesser scale than was previously the case. Second will carry (48kg), third (42kg), fourth (36kg), fifth (30kg), sixth (24kg), seventh (18kg), eighth (12kg), ninth (6kg), 10th (6kg).
BTCC series director Alan Gow explains the rationale behind the move.
"It is a good thing that we can reduce the level of ballast," he says. "It's a reflection of how competitive the grid is right now. The field is so tight that 75kg can have a huge effect and so we have looked at the situation and made the appropriate change."
The impact of the previous success weight was never more apparent than at the final round of 2018.
The championship challengers Colin Turkington (WSR BMW 125i M Sport) and Tom Ingram (Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis) came to the event carrying 75kg and 66kg respectively and could only line up in 17th and 19th positions after qualifying. While the big prize was at stake, fans were having to look further down the order to see how the fight for the crown was playing out.
|Year||Field spread from front to back||Average qual with max ballast||Average gap to pole with max ballast|
BTCC race statistics
|Year||Races won by under 1s||Average race winning margin|
As the statistics above show, that was not a unique situation. Those carrying 75kg have, generally speaking, been half a second away from the qualifying pace. Five years ago, that would have given a racer a chance in race one to bank a sensible result. Now with the ramped up level of competition, even a result in the top 15 is greeted as a success.
The average qualifying position for a fully ballasted car last term was 13th spot, which tells its own story. When the 75kg of ballast was first introduced, the pack was a lot more spread out. In 2015, the average starting spot for a driver with the top weight after qualifying for race one was eighth place.
"It wasn't racing, and it certainly wasn't enjoyable" Colin Turkington
Ingram, who won Dunlop's Forever Forward award for the driver who does the most overtaking in a season and finished as the 2018 championship runner-up, explains: "I was going into each meeting effectively having to write off the opening race of the weekend.
"You go by the rule of thumb that you lose 0.1s per lap for every 10kg of extra ballast that you carry. So that means at the shorter circuits, like Silverstone, you are almost staring down some impossible odds before you start. It was a question of just getting through the opening race of any given weekend and then plotting your strategy after that. We were almost always factoring in that race one would be a write off.
"They are the rules we all signed up to and I have no problem with that, and if you are carrying weight then it means that you have done a good job up to that point - so it is not all bad. But when you come to race with that amount of weight in the car makes it a very tough job indeed."
Turkington was the main loser in terms of the success ballast last year, given that he was on top of the points pile going into five of the nine rounds where drivers carry the extra lead, which is bolted to the passenger footwell of each machine.
While WSR team boss Dick Bennetts has welcomed the rule change for 2019, he has his reservations.
"It will be the same for everyone," he is quick to point out. While that is true, it means that the main players in the title chase will have a chance to rescue something meaningful from the opening race each weekend - which was not the case in 2018.
"Race one was simply a non-event, and you were just on a damage limitation exercise," explains three-time champion Turkington. "It wasn't what you could call racing. I would be in a pack of cars and there is simply nothing you can do. It wasn't racing, and it certainly wasn't enjoyable.
"I understand the reasons behind success ballast and that it is there to do a certain job. That is fine, but it certainly needed to change because it left us with no chance.
"That final round at Brands Hatch is an interesting case in point: you are gunning for the biggest prize of your life and the shackles are on. It is as frustrating for the drivers as it is for the trackside fans.
"You have to look at the level of competitiveness across the board. The races are closer, the mid-pack is closer and the margins are finer. All these things have added up to make it an almost impossible job with full weight."
Of course, the BTCC is all about on-track entertainment. The fact that one of the factors to equalise performance has been reduced goes to back to two things - that the levelling up of cars is working and the competitiveness of the grid has increased.
The ballast isn't the only thing to change for 2019, with the option tyres altered too. Firstly, at Knockhill, the softer Dunlop will be the standard tyre, while the medium will be the joker (or 'option') tyre.
The most radical change will come at Snetterton in early August, where racers will use all three varieties of tyre - the soft, the medium and the hard - across all three races and therefore do not have to nominate before the event what is used when. The only time fans, and rivals, will know is when the cars emerge from their garages at the beginning of each race.
"You would start your planning with the end of the season and then come backwards. That will be out of the window this year, and it could have a significant effect" Matt Neal
To help fans identify with all three variety of tyre, the harder runner will carry a silver sidewall in 2019, the medium is yellow and the softer Dunlop will be coloured green.
These elements, too, will add to the strategy. Three-time champion Matt Neal explains that this will alter the thinking process of the teams and drivers, as the option tyre, which is used everywhere apart from Thruxton, has been an integral part of the planning process.
With two rounds at Thruxton in 2019 and the Snetterton trick, it means tyre usage will be one of the key factors in the year ahead.
"Before, we had to use the option tyre three times in race one, three times in race two and three times in race three," says Neal. "You would start your planning with the end of the season and work out what type of tyre you wanted where and then come backwards to the start of the year, selecting which races you could take the tyre pain earlier in the season.
"That will be out of the window this year, and it could have a significant effect on the way people plot their weekends. We don't know how it is going to work because it is a freedom we haven't had before."
The main selling point of the BTCC is the close racing, and the rule tweaks introduced for the season ahead should ensure that its calling card remains as strong as ever.