It could have been even better for Mercedes.
When Bottas finally stopped, taking on mediums, Vettel's lead was north of eight seconds and Raikkonen had closed back in on the Mercedes.
He heads into Sunday's race on course to become the first driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004 to open the season with consecutive wins for Ferrari.
At the very least it promised an exciting finish that came to fruition as Vettel's softer tyres inevitably neared the end of their life in the closing laps.
I hope that Bahrain will again show us that cars can overtake especially in the DRS zones and that we have not lost any of this spectacle of motor eacing.
"When they told me the pace of Valtteri I was like there was no way I could do that". Thankfully for the fans, this track unlike the Albert Park in Melbourne offers way more overtaking opportunities and it will be interesting to see what pit stop strategies the teams will adopt at this heavy tyre wear circuit. Although the German driver looked steady behind the wheel, his mind was racing nearly as fast as Bottas' Mercedes behind him.
The Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc, who spun on his final lap and said on team radio that "I am so stupid", plus the Williams of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll were also eliminated in the opening phase.
"I'll try and eke out every last bit of power and strength from this auto", Hamilton said.
Vettel won in Melbourne, profiting from an error by Mercedes to finish ahead of Hamilton, who was leading from pole. You can sign up for a free 7-day trial of either, and you can then watch the race live on your computer via the Sling TV website, or on your phone, tablet or streaming device via the Sling TV app. "We've got more to do overnight and in the practice tomorrow (Saturday) to five us a auto that can fight in qualifying and on Sunday. It meant that I spent the beginning of the second session searching for the balance of the auto", Verstappen said.
"It was quite intense", Vettel said. "Being second with such a close margin is extremely disappointing".
Ferrari totally botched Raikkonen's second tire change. The Finn hit the gas before the left-rear had been changed and struck a mechanic's leg. Raikkonen stopped in the pitlane with three new tyres and the unchanged old one on his vehicle and retired.
Cigorini suffered a fracture of the tibia and fibula in his left leg and was taken to hospital.
"I go when the light is green and I don't see what happens behind", said Raikkonen, who stopped his vehicle in the pitlane straight after the incident and retired from the race.
Raikkonen's auto came to a halt a few meters later and he took off the steering wheel and dejectedly threw it into the cockpit. As he walked back through the team garage, the Finnish driver swiped away a water bottle in frustration.
As the sun set, drivers prepared on the grid for their showdown under floodlights.
The Silver Arrows and Hamilton were emphatically beaten by Ferrari in qualifying on Saturday with Hamilton relegated to ninth place on the grid due to a gearbox penalty.
Raikkonen got passed on the first corner by Bottas, but Vettel held his ground.
Verstappen had a more frustrating race. Max Verstappen squeezed Hamilton too hard exiting Turn 1 on Lap 2 and damaged his left-rear wheel, which caused a puncture. A Virtual Safety Car was deployed.