Caterham's Giedo van der Garde took the honours among the back row teams, out-pacing his team mate Charles Pic and his Marussia counterparts Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton during the first part of qualifying for the 2013 United States Grand Prix.

"We went for two three lap runs in qualie and I have to say I'm very pleased with where I finished," said van der Garde afterwards. "Considering the fact this is a new track for me - and I missed FP1 - to finish ahead of the other guys we're fighting with is, I think, good work.

"The car felt really good in Q1, I'm not sure there was a lot more in it but still, we start tomorrow in 19th and I think it'll be an exciting race," he added after finishing the session just under four hundredths of a second faster than Bianchi, who was himself relieved by his qualifying performance.

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"After the problems we have experienced so far this weekend, we absolutely needed to find the right solution in time for qualifying," said the Frenchman. "I'm very happy that we did this and although we haven't been able to spend the time to tune the car, we made enough progress to split the Caterhams, which is a good result from where we were."

Both men will actually get an upgrade on their grid positions for the start of Sunday's race in Austin, Texas, with van der Garde promoted to 18th and Bianchi moving up to replace the Dutchman in the 19th place grid slot.

That's because of the ten-place penalty handed to Esteban Gutierrez for impeding Pastor Maldonado during the early stages of qualifying. The Sauber will now be the cuckoo in the normal Caterham/Marussia encampment on the back two rows of the grid as he slots in to 20th position ahead of Chilton and Pic.

"In qualifying the car balance felt very different from Free Practice 3," revealed Pic, who finished Q1 in 21st place but who will lose a spot and start the race from last place. "We have a penalty anyway because of the gearbox change we had to make this morning so I was always going back a couple of places," he sighed. "But even with that it would have been good to carry through the pace from the morning session to qualifying."

Chilton will nominally start just ahead of Pix, but that's deceptive as he had been handed an unusual drive-thru penalty that must be served in the first five laps of the race as a result of having impeded Pastor Maldonado and Adrian Sutil on their flying laps in Q1.

It's only the second time that the sanction has been handed down - the first recipient was Pic at last month's Japanese GP for exiting the pit lane several seconds after the chequered flag had ended the track session. The race stewards opted to use this punishment on Chilton as a grid-drop would have been essentially meaningless given that he was already starting at the back.

Even before being told about the penalty, Chilton was less than thrilled by his day's performance.

"I'm a little disappointed with my qualifying result," the Briton admitted. "We've struggled with the car balance all weekend. We went back to where we started with the set-up to try to reduce the instability, but this made it worse and we've had to try quite a few things to improve.

"I was actually quite happy with the lap I did this afternoon, but the time just wasn't there, which is frustrating," he added. "Our car is always better in the race and that's what we've been focusing on, so we hope for better things tomorrow [in the race]."