This was his second pole of the season after Bahrain and his 52nd career pole and, should he win in Shanghai, it would be his 50th career victory, putting him behind only Michael Schumacher, Hamilton and Alain Prost.
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.
Only Ferrari and Mercedes felt sufficiently confident to give it a go, and though Vettel and Raikkonen both began laps on ultrasoft tyres as security in the final moments of the session, neither set a time, meaning them, Hamilton and Bottas will be able to execute a one-stop strategy tomorrow (Apr 15). "We had a tail wind down that straight the whole race, so I guess he misjudged and compromised both of our results".
Both Mercedes and Ferrari started Q2 with soft tyres on both cars and Raikkonen managed to nip ahead of Vettel by 0.099 seconds after the first hot laps of the session.
"I don't think Mercedes themselves know and nor do Ferrari", added Rosberg. "The fundamental base from the auto is good; we lost because it's about getting the tire in the right temperature window - the never-ending story. It was really good".
Vettel, victor of the opening two races in Australia and Bahrain, now leads Hamilton in the overall standings by 17 points. Obviously it's going to be a long race.
"If you have a really good day, you wouldn't say, 'Why the f-- did we win the race?' But 'Why the fuck did we lose the race, ' we've asked ourselves many times".
Red Bull's Max Verstappen qualified fifth ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who made it out on track just in time, with the former champions working furiously to change his engine after it blew in the final practice session. Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean's Haas completed the top ten.
Fernando Alonso led teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in 13th and 14th, with McLaren again qualifying slowest of all the Renault-powered cars, this week by around 0.3 seconds.
"We're learning more about the auto and getting more from it", he said.
Nico Hulkenberg has also been impressive. But he was edged out by Vettel as the German took pole by less than a tenth of a second.