It was Ferrari’s first at the circuit since 2004.
Despite the gap to Mercedes, Red Bull will be pleased with their impressive pace on the medium tyre in the first phase of the session where they were comfortably the quickest on this weekend’s most durable compound.
Vettel raced to victory in Australia to open the Formula One season, following up with a tense triumph over Mercedes last weekend in Bahrain.
Ricciardo’s Renault engine failed in a cloud of flame and smoke, and Red Bull face a race against time to get the auto ready for qualifying at 07:00 BST.
Vettel said: “I was happy with the whole lap, not just the last sector”.
“We’re expecting good weather for the race – dry, sunny and wind blowing in a different direction – therefore not very similar conditions to today, so on Sunday we’ll need to improvise”. I have had a pole, but I need to get another one so that is what we are working towards.
But Hamilton’s slim advantage over Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen at an overcast Shanghai International Circuit suggests the Mercedes driver may not have it all his own way this weekend. He beat his teammate Hamilton, by just 0.050 of a second.
“We got through all the laps that we needed and got some good feedback about the auto”, said Hamilton after a cold afternoon. Their straight-line speed in the last few races has been faster than ours and we have the longest straights here. Practice one we had a lot of issues.
Bottas finished 0.033s behind Hamilton in third, with Vettel 0.108s behind in fourth.
But the Briton, like Vettel a four-times champion, has won in Shanghai an unprecedented five times and is determined to claw back at least some of that deficit on Sunday.
Ferrari, on the other hand, showed no such problems and were able to set competitive lap times straight from the start.
The defending world champion has endured a hard start to the season, losing out on victory thanks to an untimely virtual safety auto and a software glitch in Australia before the race in Bahrain saw a five-place grid penalty put paid to his hopes of victory.