Verstappen was at this stage favourite to win, as the lead Red Bull driver, but he tried a move around the outside of Hamilton at the fast Turn Seven from too far back on lap 39 and ran off the road, letting Ricciardo past.
However, when a mid-race Safety Car was deployed, Ricciardo dived back into the pits to fit a new set of soft tyres, returned to the track and began picking his way through the field, taking the lead from Valtteri Bottas on lap 45 and never looking back.
There will be a post-mortem at Ferrari as to how they let that happen, given Vettel was leading by more than three seconds before Bottas' stop on lap 19 on 56, with Vettel stopping a lap later.
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After a turbo failure almost derailed the Australian's qualifying session, he put in a clinical performance after the pit stops to seize the advantage and take a comfortable victory ahead of Bottas, who held out the chasing pair of Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton.
"I don't seem to win boring races", he grinned from the podium, before chugging the champagne from his racing boot in a trademark "shoey". They're all pretty fun.
He benefited from the timing of a safety auto spell, whereas Mercedes and Ferrari suffered horribly in comparison.
The German locked a wheel going into the hairpin on lap 43 and ran a little wide.
Before the race Verstappen's team had reminded him not to get caught up in any incidents following a series of poor decisions in the first two races of the season.
Bottas's clever slide past Raikkonen around the outside of Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 27 was a thing of beauty, as was Daniel Ricciardo's effort to move into P5 past the Finn on Lap 38. The mixed result sees Hamilton close to within nine points of Vettel in the championship with Ricciardo jumping up to fourth just behind the second Mercedes of Bottas.
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On Thursday night, Artemi Panarin showed why the Columbus Blue Jackets traded for him in a blockbuster deal over the offseason. It's only fair to ask whether his workload down the stretch could have a burnout effect in the playoffs.
Ricciardo took advantage of some clever Red Bull tactics with a brilliant drive.
His pass on Lewis Hamilton on the turn 14 hairpin from well back was particularly audacious, seemingly catching the four-time world champion by surprise.
Renault's Nico Hulkenberg finished sixth for Renault, ahead of Alonso whose aggressive overtaking move on Vettel was "noted" by stewards.
The next round of the title heads to Baku for the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan in two weeks.
Chinese fans have taken to Hamilton in recent years - the Briton has five career wins in Shanghai Seasoned F1 fans have seen an very bad lot over the years in the paddock.
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