SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2021 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202108270214 // Usage for editorial use only //

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez shared the spotlight on the first day of the Belgian Grand Prix meeting at Spa, but it was Checo who was happiest after confirming a contract extension at Red Bull Racing.

Mighty Max ended Day 1 on the rain-lashed circuit with the quickest time but he also backed his Red Bull racer into the fence as he battled to run faster than Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes.

Perez was only tenth on the track but had the biggest smile in the pitlane, as he is given recognition of his wing-man role for Verstappen and the confidence to help him push for the world championship this year and a better effort next year.

“It’s great to see the team have faith in me for the future. We have so much more to achieve together and we still have a great challenge on our hands this season so I really hope we can finish the year on a high and carry that momentum into 2022,” says Perez.

“Everyone starts from zero next year with the new regulations, so my only goal is to go all the way to the top with Red Bull. It always takes time to get on top of everything when you join a new team but things have worked well this season and I really enjoy being a part of the Red Bull family. We’ve been working hard to deliver results.”

Verstappen delivered at Spa, which is effectively a home race for the Dutchman, although a late mistake marred his day.

“I think we definitely had a positive start today but unfortunately I just lost the rear at the end of the second session, there was a bit too much oversteer to correct and I hit the wall,” says Verstappen, who clocked the best time of 1 minute 44.472 seconds.

“Looking ahead to tomorrow, there are of course things to take into consideration including the weather but it’s difficult to say what the track is going to be like in the wet. I think Saturday and Sunday will be similar weather to today so it will definitely be interesting.”

Bottas, who is still waiting to hear about his future with Mercedes, was quickest in opening practice and then banked P2 in the second session with a lap in 1:44.513, ahead of Hamilton on 1:44.544.

“Overall, it was an okay day, but I didn’t quite have the car underneath me, so we’ve got some work to do tonight to figure that out,” says Hamilton, the championship leader. “Figuring out the right balance is really tricky. It’s also tough to gain knowledge in these short sessions but we’re navigating it the best we can and at least it was dry for most of the running. 

Daniel Ricciardo was only 15th for McLaren as his mercurial young team mate, Lando Norris managed ninth.

“I wouldn’t say I’m concerned about today’s times,” says Ricciardo. “We made some steps with set-up, so we’ll try to make a bit more of a step tonight and learn a bit more. It was a steady day. We avoided the rain for the most part, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”