Christian Mansell almost grabbed points in the 2023 FIA Formula 3 Championship season opener across two closely-fought races at the Bahrain GP circuit this weekend (03-05 March).
The 18-year-old Australian from New South Wales is embarking on his first full season in the third-tier Formula 1 support series, joining a 30-car grid for the opening rounds of the year in the Middle East as part of the Campos Racing outfit.
Mansell, backed by AJM Transport, Castrol, Vawdrey Trailers and VISA Global Logistics, took to the Sakhir International circuit on Friday morning for the weekend's free practice session, bedding in his Dallara machine ahead of the crucial 30-minute qualifying session later in the afternoon.
It would be an incredibly tight session right up until the chequered flag was waved, with less than half a second covering the top 18 cars as times chopped and changed throughout. Mansell left his best effort until last with a rapid lap that left him just 0.3s adrift of pole position, putting him on row seven in 13th place. The BRDC star narrowly missed out on the reverse grid pole position for Saturday's 19-lap Sprint race, and turned his attentions to a strong outing in the first race of the weekend.
A frenetic first lap for the Infinity Sports Management, IOR Petroleum, Locker 27 and AMSL Diabetes Australia-backed youngster included having to take instant evasive action from a stalled car ahead of him, after which the race was twice brought under lengthy safety car conditions.
On the first of two restarts, Mansell went on the offensive and climbed from 16th to 11th place with two decisive lunges at Turns One and 10 respectively, surpassing Sebastian Montoya under braking and engaging a thrilling scrap between the pair over the following laps. Settling into a three-car fight, Mansell fought hard with ex-GB3 team-mate Zak O'Sullivan as tyres began to lose their peak life, taking a best finish of his still-young F3 career in 13th place.
Mansell would again line up on row seven of the grid for the longer Endurance race on Sunday, with eyes on a potential top 10 result. The Campos Racing man had to recover from lost ground when the lights went out and immediately forced his way into an entertaining multi-car squabble on the fringes of the top 10 as he settled into a rhythm for the 22-lap encounter.
Escaping Turn One trouble on a safety car restart, the multiple GB3 and Euroformula Open race winner later dispatched Ciao Collet and set his sights on the duo ahead of him, but would be denied a double DRS attack on the final lap by a second safety car interruption, adding another solid result of 13th place to his early season tally.
Christian Mansell:"I'm happy with the start of the season as it showed we can mix it with the experienced drivers, and we came close to the top 10 in both races.
"It's a learning start to the season but the Campos Racing team have been fantastic and we know we have potential. Qualifying showed just how tight it was - to be only three tenths off pole and so close to the reverse grid pole, we'll take that.
"The first race was a full of action with some really good battles along the way. After all the chaos and drama, to come out of that almost with a top-10 finish - we can be happy with that. On Sunday a lot of it was about the recovery, but we started gaining towards the end which was promising.
"I'm so excited for the next round at Melbourne. A home crowd, familiar scenery - I really want to give those fans a result to shout about. I can't wait and we'll give it everything to make it happen."
The second of 10 meetings is an exciting home event for Mansell, as the FIA F3 Championship heads down under to Melbourne in Australia for two more races supporting F1 (31 March / 02 April).
Images from Dutch Photo Agency.