But the race took a second dramatic twist when the safety auto was deployed following a coming-together between the Toro Rosso pair of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly on lap 31.
Sebastian Vettel was imperious as he sealed another pole position.
On fresher tryes, Ricciardo charged through the pack and he took the lead on Lap 40 of 56 as he passed Bottas at Turn 4.
Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas appeared on course for an excellent victory over Vettel before the safety vehicle period after the Finn jumped the Ferrari during their pit stops. The well-deserved victory comes just at the right time for the Red Bull driver after disappointing results and power unit failures up to now.
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Even with the fresh rubber offering an advantage of more than one second per lap, Ferrari did not react immediately with Vettel at the front, instead waiting until Lap 20 to bring the race leader in.
Ricciardo managed to progress in 14th place in Q1 and duly ended qualifying sixth, one position behind teammate Max Verstappen.
Verstappen feels that as Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport will not be able to use their so-called "Party mode" during the race, Red Bull should be closer to them on Sunday, and the Dutchman feels that with a clean start and good strategy calls he can challenge them for a podium.
Verstappen tried to pass Hamilton around the outside but instead nearly bumped wheels and went off the track.
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Verstappen thus held the advantage but an opportunistic attempt on Lewis Hamilton for third through Turn 7 left him wide, and Ricciardo, having already overhauled Raikkonen, grabbed the spot from his team-mate. The Australian picked off Vettel thanks to DRS on the back straight to take second, leaving only Bottas on his radar.
He will be hoping to make it three wins from three in Shanghai after finishing first in both Australia and Bahrain. Verstappen was slapped with a 10-second time penalty for causing a collision, but Vettel was dropping back from the Red Bull driver after a greater rate of knots, having also lost places to Raikkonen, Hamilton and Renault's Nico Hulkenberg. However, the Mercedes driver wasn't blocked for long, passing Raikkonen down the inside at Turn 3, before Vettel also shot past his team-mate.
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo has won the Chinese Grand Prix.
For the second week in a row, Bottas moved ahead of Raikkonen, while Verstappen fought his way past Hamilton and then Raikkonen, too, to take third. Vettel never recovered from the hit from Verstappen and lost seventh place to McLaren's Fernando Alonso on the penultimate lap before almost losing eighth to Carlos Sainz. Vettel was followed by Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen.
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