Jenson Button cut a perplexed figure after making an early exit from qualifying at the United States Grand Prix, unable to explain why his practice potential had deserted at just the wrong moment.

Despite facing a three-place penalty for passing rookie Daniil Kvyat under red flags in the interrupted opening practice session on Friday, the Briton was still confident of posting a provisional top ten spot on the grid after recording promising times throughout the three preparatory sessions. However, when it came to the crunch, Button was unable to improve on his last lap in Q2, and sees a provisional 13th spot become 16th - on the less favourable side of the grid - as a result of his earlier punishment.

"I don't know what happened," he sighed, "I couldn't find the balance or the grip. The pace just wasn't there, [and] that's tough, especially when we've looked pretty quick for most of the weekend. I don't know where our pace has gone in qualifying - it's not the first time it's happened."

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Despite a strong breeze building up ahead of qualifying, and temperatures fluctuating throughout the sessions, Button dismissed the change in conditions as a major factor in his frustration.

"It wasn't necessarily the weather conditions - other drivers seemed to cope - although I guess it may have contributed," he pondered, "We'll investigate. It was weird though - especially when you saw that Valtteri [Bottas] could go quickest in Q1 but his team-mate couldn't even get through to Q2..."

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh was a little more optimistic about Button's chances for Sunday, suggesting the Briton should fare better in the race.

"Jenson struggled a little with the balance of his car, and undoubtedly the very windy conditions didn't help, but, despite his three-place grid penalty, he'll be determined to force his way through the field from his lowly grid position - as we've so often seen him do to great effect in the past."

Team-mate Sergio Perez produced a couple of laps good enough to ensure he featured in the top ten shoot-out, out-qualifying Button for the fourth time in five races. The Mexican, who will leave McLaren at the end of the season, was delighted to annex seventh spot on the grid in front of his Mexican fans, but frustrated to learn how tightly packed his part of the grid turned out to be.

"Obviously, I'm very pleased, but, when you're so close to the cars in front, you still want to improve," he admitted, "In that respect, I'm slightly disappointed - but if you'd told me I'd be seventh before the start of qualifying, I'd have taken it."

For all the furore in the build-up to what amounts to a 'home' race, Perez said that he had been able to focus on producing his best in qualifying, and now looks forward to scoring solid points on raceday.

"I was just able to relax and focus," he noted, "At the end of the day, I'm a racing driver - I've been doing this my whole life. When I get in the car, I just forget about everything else and concentrate on my own performance.

"Tomorrow, I'll be racing in front of my own people, and that makes me feel hugely proud. I'll be starting from the clean side of the grid, so I'll be hoping for a good start, and I'll be really hoping to put on a great show for all my Mexican fans."