Finland's Valtteri Bottas claimed a first career pole position on Saturday when he edged out Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in qualifying at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
"In Q2 I thought "okay, it will be tight, happy to go into Q3" - and then I was very happy with my first lap", said Vettel.
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was fourth, with Ferrari's Raikkonen fifth ahead of Max Verstappen's Red Bull.
Bottas, who joined Mercedes in the off-season after the retirement of world champion Nico Rosberg, denied Hamilton a seventh straight pole.
"Boom. That's my first one, guys", Bottas proudly told his team over race radio before adding he is finally starting to feel comfortable with the vehicle.
Lewis Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas believes the fight for the championship is now a three-way battle after he sprung the surprise of the season so far to secure his maiden pole position.
"I think it's a shame because we could respect each other a bit more and keep a bit of a gap instead of trying to squeeze in just ahead of the last corner. For [the race], the most important thing is the auto felt good".
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Four-time world champion Vettel was third fastest for Ferrari, unable to make an impact on the two Mercedes men who took the front row.
"But definitely it's a good place to start and I think, as a team, we can be really strong tomorrow and hopefully get a one-two - the first one for the year". "It's a ideal situation now for us, for the team, because they will be pushing each other - and with all the respect they have for each other as racing drivers - so it's good".
Vettel admits he had had gone into Q3 optimistic he could challenge for at least a spot on the front row after seeing how close he had been to the Silver Arrows cars in the middle qualifying session. "Four tenths was a lot more than I expected, given how good the lap felt".
"The more laps, the more time you spend with a vehicle and driving it, you get to be more at one with the auto".
"We all know in qualifying Mercedes and Ferrari can turn up their engines a little bit more than us, unfortunately, but in the race we normally look a little bit more competitive than in qualifying".
Bottas became the first Finnish driver to take pole since Heikki Kovalainen at the British GP in 2008 - the race after Kimi Raikkonen's pole at the French GP - and the fifth overall.
"You can only enjoy this for a short period of time". "The main thing is tomorrow and there is no point to start dreaming about anything. On the next run I tried too hard".