Christian Mansell put in a mature drive to bag his best FIA Formula 3 Championship result to date with seventh at the Red Bull Ring in Austria last weekend (1/2 July).
The 18-year-old Australian came off the back of one of his best weekends of the season in Barcelona hoping for further improvements in his first full campaign in FIA F3 with Campos Racing, visiting a Red Bull Ring circuit he battled for victory at in Euroformula Open last year.
Mansell, backed by AJM Transport, Castrol, Vawdrey Trailers and VISA Global Logistics, showed strong signs of repeating those performances once again after battling within the crucial points-paying positions during testing at the Austrian circuit, supporting the Formula 1 race.
Come qualifying on Friday afternoon, a manic session would unfold at the short 2.6-mile circuit, as drivers jostled for the best position on track to pump in their best laps. The combination of mind games and attempts to position themselves best to avoid traffic on soft tyre runs became messy throughout the field, as they instead bunched together in the closing stages, Mansell trying to recover into the top 12 places for a reverse grid challenge.
A late charge on soft tyres put him inside that critical buffer, placing the multiple Euroformula Open and GB3 Championship race winner 10th in the times and in two strong grid positions for the weekend's pair of races in Spielberg - just 0.2s from pole position overall.
The weather gods were not kind for Saturday's Sprint Race as the heavens opened, leaving a saturated grid in which Mansell would start from the third row in sixth. What followed was a dramatic start, as Mansell brilliantly avoided a stalled car directly ahead of him to advance to fourth place, clinging on against Paul Aron in his jostle to maintain position.
Mansell found himself battling for pace in the #24 car as he slipped to sixth at the end of the lap, grimly fending off his rivals through the spray. A safety car interruption aided his recovery to the frontrunners, but he would ultimately cross the line in 14th with eyes focused on a stronger Sunday.
He thoroughly made up for it in the Feature Race, in what was a tactical high-speed chess game where the top 15 cars were separated by very little in an exciting encounter. The Infinity Sports Management, IOR Petroleum, Locker 27 and AMSL Diabetes Australia-backed man this time showed strong pace throughout and showed his intentions early with a bold pass around the outside of Oliver Goethe on lap one to move into ninth place from a P10 starting spot.
Mansell and Campos team-mate Pepe Marti worked tirelessly together for much of the race and clawed ground up when two incidents ahead removed four rivals, passing Paul Aron at Turn Five. Despite being briefly squeezed out of the top 10, Mansell fought a determined recovery to move back up to ninth, later passing Marti at the hairpin and then climbing a further spot to a brilliant seventh place - and six championship points - at the chequered flag after Sebastien Montoya's last-lap off.
Mansell does not have long to wait to return to FIA F3 action, as he returns to familiar grounds at Silverstone in support of the British Grand Prix this coming weekend (08/09 July).
Christian Mansell:"Sunday was a great way to finish off the weekend. That showed what we were capable of and it was a good feeling to come away with the result and those points.
"I feel like we'll get tired of saying it, but it's just so close in terms of times between us this year. At one stage we were 0.4s off pole and outside the top 15 which is nothing, but we managed to get into the top 10 for the reverse grid to keep us in the mix for the races which we knew would allow for a lot of passing.
"In race one it was a bit of me, and a bit of the car just being out of the window we wanted it to be, so we couldn't really compete in that race. The dry race on Sunday showed the team's true speed and we worked together early on trying to pick people off. It worked in the end and it's great to get another strong result.
"We're on the right trajectory at the moment, so going to Silverstone which is a place I know well from GB3 and British F4 days gives us confidence to go and get more."
Image from Dutch Photo Agency.