Ricciardo during the mid-point of the race was in sixth position, while Sebastian Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen were fighting up front.
Ricciardo and Verstappen were not early contenders, but the deployment of the safety auto on the 32nd of 56 laps swung the race Red Bull's way.
In a typically boisterous bid for the podium, the Dutchman saw gaps where there were none, and wiped out Vettel at the hairpin on the 43rd lap. The race stewards ruled that it was an overly optimistic move from Verstappen, and hit the Red Bull with a 10-second time penalty. The Australian, who started sixth on the ultra-soft tyre but very almost missed qualifying after a turbo failure in FP3, made up a place before stopping for fresh medium tyres.
Ricciardo emerged from the pits in sixth place but with a tyre advantage over the Mercedes' and Ferrari's ahead.
Further down the field, Vettel was obviously suffering with a damaged auto, as Fernando Alonso squeezed past the German on lap 55 to take seventh place, with the Ferrari driver complaining of having been pushed off the track.
Initially in the best position to attack was Verstappen, but hot Dutch double-faced Hamilton and Vettel with a 10-second penalty finished only fifth.
It was a race the Australian had gone into looking to challenge for the triumph.
"Put ourselves back 24 hours and I thought I might be starting from the back of the grid", Ricciardo said of Red Bull's engine troubles, which have plagued the team early in the season. Lewis Hamilton dropped back to fifth, as the first portion of the race passed without much incident.
After a pretty shitty weekend on the track, ol' mate Daniel Ricciardo has won the China Grand Prix and how did he celebrate his win? I had no pace and was just trying to hold on for whatever I had. "It felt like we should have had the victory, but not today". We have lost performance since Melbourne and maybe even more so this weekend.
"We have got a tough battle ahead of us, particularly on my side". I knew there would be enough room, the tyres had enough grip. "I said to him 'the races are long, and you threw your podium away.' He realised he messed up, and I appreciate he came up to me straight away".
Kimi Raikkonen, who finished third: "I think we made a good start, got blocked a bit and got passed in the first corner".
"In the end we would have needed the soft tyres to really go for it".
But the Perth man looked inspirational in China, going from P6 to first in a matter of laps after benefitting from fresh tyres during the safety vehicle. "That is racing. These things happen".
And the 28-year-old warned the pair that they should not give him such an opportunity again or else he will continue to make them pay.
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