By Abhishek Takle
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Kimi Raikkonen's hopes of a strong result in the Chinese Grand Prix appeared dashed after Ferrari compromised his race to help Sebastian Vettel, but in the end the Italian team had to count on the Finn to salvage a podium in a contest that went awry.
Ferrari dominated Saturday's qualifying at the Shanghai circuit with Vettel leading a front-row lockout for the Maranello-based squad after narrowly beating Raikkonen to pole.
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But the Finn's third place is the best Ferrari managed to come away with at the end of Sunday's race won by Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.
"Today's result was definitely not the one we were aiming for, given that we were starting from the front row," said team principal Maurizio Arrivabene.
Vettel kept the lead off the line, chopping across the bows of Raikkonen, who dropped to fourth behind the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen's fast-starting Red Bull.
The German led in the early stages but lost position to Bottas through the pitstops, despite having built a comfortable advantage.
The Finn had stopped one lap earlier and made use of his fresher tyres to bridge the gap.
Vettel's pitstop, Ferrari's first in race conditions after their botched effort in Bahrain left a mechanic with a broken leg, was also slower than Mercedes' pit work for Bottas.
Having lost the effective lead to the Mercedes, Ferrari kept Raikkonen, who was now at the front but yet to stop, out on the track.
The Finn's pace on fading tyres was dropping off and hurting his race. But Ferrari, it appeared, hoped Raikkonen would trip Bottas up and create an opportunity for Vettel to regain the lead.
They eventually brought him in on lap 27, after Bottas and Vettel overtook him without a change in positions.
"I don't know," said Raikkonen when asked if he had fallen victim to Ferrari strategy in the first stint.
"On the last lap with the Mercedes it was Seb who benefited for me but then we had the Safety Car."
The safety car bunched the pack up and allowed Raikkonen to make up the time he had lost staying out.
Vettel's race, meanwhile, unraveled after Verstappen collided with him and punted him into a spin.
Despite being pre-race favorite to chalk up a third win in a row, Vettel finished only eighth, behind even McLaren's Fernando Alonso.
Raikkonen, on the other hand, almost snatched second from Bottas but was unable to get past.
"A little bit of luck with the safety car," he said later.
"But I'll take what I got, because at one point it didn't look good at all."
(Editing by Christian Radnedge)