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Max Verstappen is confident of charging back up the order in Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix after dropping out in the first stage of Formula 1 qualifying due to an engine issue.

Verstappen qualified a lowly 19th at the Shanghai International Circuit after a spark plug issue left him down on power in Q1, and unable to push the Red Bull RB13 car to its limits.

Red Bull entered 2017 hoping to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari at the front of the pack, but has looked a distant third in the pecking order, with Verstappen admitting the gap is "very big".

"It will take some time [to catch up]," Verstappen said. "We have to be realistic, you cannot do it from one to another race. I also don't know how long it will take, we just have to wait and work hard."

Verstappen was one of the stand-out stars in last year's wet Brazilian Grand Prix, charging from 15th to third in the space of 13 laps.

With rain forecast for Sunday's race in China, the Dutchman was asked if he could produce a repeat display, and while he is confident of battling back up the order, he admitted it would be harder to repeat given Red Bull's lack of downforce and the pace of the leading two teams.

"Last year in Brazil I think we had one of the best cars in terms of downforce. In the rain you could still see we were down on power on the straights but the car was working well," Verstappen said.

"For sure tomorrow I will go to the front, I don't know how far but I don't think we are in a position to challenge Ferrari and Mercedes even in the wet. And I will be too far behind anyway!"

Verstappen will start 17th on the grid on Sunday after fellow Q1 drop-outs Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer received five-place penalties, causing them to fall to the back row.

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