Pons Racing’s newest rider for 2021, Stefano Manzi, has come in for a lot of criticism in his short career in the MotoGP paddock, with rivals and fans alike branding him a serial crasher.
Manzi is an exciting rider, all lean angle and aggressive style. The title was earned through his own actions before 2019, and reached its peak in 2018 with the most crashes in all 3 classes with a scarcely believable 32. This number dropped a lot in 2019, and he wasn’t even in the top 5 crashers on the brand-new MV Agusta project in 2019, and has continued in 2020, crashing out of only two races so far at Brno and Catalunya.
The problem was, the reputation was earned in 2017, when he was placed on the Sky Racing VR46 Kalex, despite only having a handful of Moto2 appearances under his belt. He clearly wasn’t ready for a ride of that magnitude at the time, and it showed after 8 DNFs and 25th in the championship, with only 14 points scored. There was a glimmer of what he could do at Silverstone, with a 7th place finish, but that was the undoubted highlight.
So a move seemed best for Manzi, less pressure to learn his craft, and in 2018 that arrived with Forward Racing picking him up. Soon it became apparent that the move was going to be a real challenge, with the squad the only team left on Suter chassis’ that had not been competitive or received updates since 2016. The only yardstick we had to judge Manzi on was his team mate, and at the start of the season it was Eric Granado, and later was Isaac Vinales. He beat both and scored Suter’s only points of the entire season with a very good 11th at Le Mans, and a 14th at Austria. The season was cut short after one crash too many, and he missed the final two rounds with an injury.
Manzi in 2018 aboard the Forward Racing Suter.
2019 came around and more of the same was to be expected, with MV bringing their own brand new chassis and he had a team mate of real quality in Dominique Aegerter, this was the year where if he did not prove himself, he would be out. And prove himself he did. He finished up with a string of points scoring finishes, 7 in total, most of them coming towards the tail end of the season which can be attributed to both rider and bike development. A 7th place at Assen seemed as though it would be the highlight, then Valencia happened. An incredible 4th place, and less than 0.2 seconds off the podium places meant he had truly shown he deserved the place and the contract renewal for 2020. Even more impressively though, there were only 5 DNFs in a 19 race season, a marked improvement after the previous year. He scored 39 points, more than the previous 2 seasons combined and 20 points more than Aegerter. It doesn’t seem that much, but for a brand new project this was impressive.
So on to 2020. To put it simply, something has clicked. Races are being finished consistently and the finishes are in or just outside the points. There have been points scoring finishes in 6 of the 10 rounds so far, the latest being another two points to the tally at Le Mans in tricky conditions. He is riding within himself and it has made team managers take notice. Sito Pons has seen fit to effectively perform a rider swap, trading Manzi for his former VR46 Academy stablemate Lorenzo Baldassarri for 2021, and giving Manzi a very coveted seat on which to show his talents. He has been criticised a lot, some of it thoroughly deserved, but to have bested your team mate for 2 straight seasons is impressive (and it’s looking likely to be a 3rd, with Simone Corsi nowhere near the level set), it’s now or never to make the final step. Pons should enable him to do this, if the step is able to be taken. With the improvements and maturity shown in 2020, Manzi could turn out to be a real surprise package for 2021.
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