Adding to his disappointment, Bottas's pace relative to the Ferraris was much better than it had been in qualifying, when neither he nor team mate Lewis Hamilton - who finished fourth - could get near the Italian cars. Hamilton's win here last year marked his third in four years, his fifth overall, and Mercedes' fifth in the last six China Grand Prix races.
Mercedes were off the pace against their Ferrari rivals, who fill the front row.
"I had no pace so I was just trying to hold on for whatever I had", the Mercedes driver told reporters at the Chinese Grand Prix.
Crucially, it was a full second clear of Hamilton's quickest effort.
He lost out again on Sunday when he tried to pass Hamilton, who has already spoken of Verstappen's inexperience costing Red Bull precious points. At the moment it is not going the way I like of course, but does it mean I have to calm down?
Pierre Gasly may have produced the lap of the season so far for Toro Rosso in Bahrain, qualifying on the third row, but he was flat last in the opening shootout so is still level with Brendon Hartley.
Raikkonen was surely feeling aggrieved to have surrendered pole after having an edge over Vettel for most of the weekend, but the Finn typically gave nothing away after the session.
Teammate Vettel could not match him and was 0.1s down in P2, while Bottas and Hamilton were 0.4s back in P3 and P4 respectively.
Both Ferrari cars were 0.5 seconds faster in qualifying than either Mercedes, a huge gap in F1.
Raikkonen had claimed provisional pole after outpacing Vettel on their opening flying laps at the start of Q3.
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was eliminated in Q2 after failing to improve his time since the first run but managed to stay ahead of Esteban Ocon of Force India.
The start of the season has gone against all the predictions; Sebastian Vettel has won the first two races of the season with Ferrari leading Mercedes in the Constructors' title battle by ten points. "But he made a mistake, locked up - it happens with a tailwind down that straight - I guess he misjudged and compromised both our races".
Hamilton aborted his final Q3 lap and was there for taking by Red Bull, but Max Verstappen failed to capitalise, falling short in P5 by an agonising 0.012s.
Bottas was asked if he was surprised by the Ferrari advantage.
Will the Italians be able to convert the pole into a victory?
Lance Stroll in P18 led the Sauber drivers, with Charles Leclerc, who nearly crashed his vehicle when he ran wide out of the last corner before his final lap, heading Marcus Ericsson by half a second.