Young Aussie racing star Christian Mansell rounded out his first full season in the FIA Formula 3 Championship with another excellent double points-scoring display at Monza in the season finale last weekend (1-3 September).
Continuing to improve during an impressive season with the Campos Racing outfit, the rapid Australian from Newcastle, New South Wales, had again flirted with the top 10 in the Drivers' Championship after his second podium finish of the season in a near race-winning performance at Spa-Francorchamps in the early part of the summer.
Backed by AJM Transport, Castrol, Vawdrey Trailers and VISA Global Logistics, Mansell returned to action for one last fight around the forests at the picturesque Monza circuit in Italy, racing on the Formula 1 roster in front of the world's TV feeds hoping to bag two more strong results to complete his season tally.
After a tight Free Practice session showed signs of what was to come in an ultra-competitive weekend of racing, Qualifying became an incredibly messy affair. The 30-minute timed session to decide the grid was truncated by a mixture of drivers leaving the circuit and stoppages as cars unsuccessfully attempted to find space and utilise a slipstream.
This was made more bizarre by the last red flag curtailing the session much earlier than intended as clock ticked into the final 10 minutes - much to the surprise of many including the innocent Mansell, who could not put in his final run on fresher tyres to improve on a grid position of 14th for the weekend's two races at the Temple of Speed.
Channeling his frustration at the disappointment of what had occurred in Qualifying, Mansell thoroughly made up for it on the main stage the following day in the 18-lap Sprint race, leaping from the seventh row of the grid up into the top nine after skillfully dodging a multi-car pile-up directly ahead of him heading into the tight first chicane.
After the safety car peeled back into the pits following the clean-up operation required, Mansell then showed exactly what he was made of. Tucking into the tow of a trio of cars ahead of him, the Australian sent his Campos Racing car up the inside of a pair of Trident Racing machines to brilliantly dispose of both drivers under braking for the second chicane, before improving to sixth place by passing Nikola Tsolov at the same corner on lap seven.
As the race settled in, Mansell remained part of the nine-car train battling over the overall race lead. As tyre life began to dwindle, the GB3 Championship and Euroformula Open race winner kept his nose clean to take the chequered flag in ninth position, collecting yet more points in what had become a fine second half of the season for the youngster.
The Infinity Sports Management, IOR Petroleum, Locker 27 and AMSL Diabetes Australia-backed star lined up from 14th on the grid on Sunday morning, and the final Feature Race of the season was filled with drama including no less than four safety car interruptions over the 21 laps.
Mansell thankfully kept his nose clean once again while others did not do so, battling cleanly with his Campos team-mate Pepe Marti in the early running to move up onto the fringes of the top 10 which he quickly broke into after a puncture for a rival ahead. After dropping back on a chaotic safety car restart through taking to the escape road at the first chicane, BRDC star Mansell attacked on the next restart that followed to climb three spots to ninth place, and evade yet another multi-car pile-up behind him.
It all boiled down to a one-lap shoot-out, Mansell attacking immediately and rounding the Trident car of Leonardo Fornaroli into the first corner to improve to eighth place where he would remain until the final chequered flag of 2023 in a fighting performance.
Christian ended an entertaining and mightily promising maiden full season in the third-tier single-seater category with a total of 60 points, 10 top-10 results and two podium finishes to his name for Campos Racing, finishing 12th in the final Drivers' Championship standings.
Christian Mansell: "Overall I think we as a team can be really happy with our performances this season. We've been right in the mix and for me, personally, I feel that we kicked on in the second half of the season. We came close to a win at Spa, picked up two podiums and ended with a strong haul of points so I'm proud of what we've achieved this early in our journey.
"It was always going to be chaotic with everyone so close together at a track like Monza, so I thought it was important to just avoid that drama and pick the right moments to attack and it paid off thankfully for us.
"A double points finish is a good result, but it would have been even better had Qualifying been handled better by factors out of our control. We had our time cut short, and that meant a recovery job. We did a great job in the first race, pulled off a double overtake and were right in the lead battle until my tyres fell off the cliff late on. Then Sunday was a survival job and we recovered well again.
"A huge thank you to everyone at Campos Racing for their hard work throughout the year. I'm proud to have been given the chance and hopefully this bodes well for our plans for 2024."
Image from Dutch Photo Agency.