Vettel clocked 1min 31.095sec at the Shanghai International Circuit in final qualifying on Saturday ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
The former Williams driver thinks it could be the dawn of a new era for Ferrari as Mercedes take a step back after dominating the sport for the last four seasons since the start of the V6 Turbo era.
"The vehicle was unbelievable and it just got better", said Vettel. I don't think necessarily I need to be less aggressive or anything because it's nothing to do with being overly aggressive but maybe wanting too much.
Bottas held off a late surge from Ferrari's Raikkonen to finish second, albeit nine seconds down on a jubilant Ricciardo.
His teammate Kimi Raikkonen was just behind by 0.087 second.
This was his second pole of the season after Bahrain and his 52nd career pole and, should he win in Shanghai, it would be his 50th career victory, putting him behind only Michael Schumacher, Hamilton and Alain Prost. It was also only Ferrari's second in Shanghai after Rubens Barrichello started the inaugural Chinese race from the front in 2004.
Hamilton, who will start on the soft tyres as will Ferrari, sounded less sure but hinted he would push to overtake.
Ricciardo's participation was in question at the start of the qualifying session as his vehicle suffered a blown engine.
Both Williams cars were eliminated in Q1 for the second successive race.
Sebastian Vettel boasts a flawless record from the opening two rubbers, and holds a 17-point lead over the Briton.
Bottas was asked if he was surprised by the Ferrari advantage.
"We really have something to think about", accepted Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. "So I'm really happy", Vettel told reporters.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen qualified fifth ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who made it out on track just in time, with the former champions working a miracle to change his engine after it blew up in the final practice session on Saturday morning.
"Fifth and sixth and we were pretty close to Mercedes". The Silver Arrows had absolutely no answer for the pace of the Ferraris, finishing nearly six tenths off the Scuderia. "We will be starting the race on a different tyre and strategically that could be quite interesting". A McLaren vehicle is still yet to reach Q3 in 2018, although the team's race pace has tended to be better.
Vettel won in Australia, and last week in Bahrain. We had a tailwind all race. "We seem to be a little slow on the straights compared to our main competitors".
Sergey Sirotkin narrowly missed out on making it into Q2 but managed to out-qualify team-mate Lance Stroll.