Of course, it was entirely possible given how well the talented Verstappen has been driving since making a huge splash at last year's Spanish Grand Prix, which he won in his first start for Red Bull after being promoted from feeder team Toro Rosso. With the win, Hamilton has now tied Alain Prost for second-most all-time career podiums, with 106.
Hamilton pipped Ferrari's Vettel in Shanghai in a reverse of the opening race in Australia last month to go level with the German at the top of the standings.
Hamilton said: "I think it's going to be the closest championship race I've been involved in". It's such a great crowd here in Shanghai. "On the exit I was a bit compromised, I had my elbows out, he really squeezed me, but good fun". I said I???m coming back in the next one. I saw Daniel and I saw him blocking down the inside and I had a good run out of Turn 4, I thought you have to try it around the outside.
Morning rain in Shanghai had soaked the track, but the weather improved by the start and the circuit was drying out in parts, leading to the majority of the grid starting on intermediate tyres.
The other Mercedes auto did not have similar luck. After the final round of pitstops though, Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen came out in that order, which is where they finished the race.
Canadian rookie Lance Stroll was the first casualty of the inclement conditions after he was punted from behind by the Force India of Sergio Perez.
Bottas, who has replaced the retired Rosberg this season, ended up apologising to his team after spinning out behind the safety vehicle while in fifth place as he was weaving across the track to warm up his tyres for the restart. After a while, to be precise in the fourth lap, Antonio Giovinazzi slammed his Sauber auto and bringing the race to a halt. As the trio squabbled for position, Hamilton pulled clear at the front.
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As well as this costing both Ferrari drivers time, Vettel was able to overtake Ricciardo shortly after passing Raikkonen.
"The safety auto came just as I was about to start to feel the dry tyres were a lot quicker but then I had a very exciting race", Vettel said. "So I couldn't use the momentum, the advantage and I lost a lot of positions".
"But I had a really exciting race".
Ricciardo took fourth behind Verstappen after an furious late scrap between the two Red Bulls, with Raikkonen finishing fifth ahead of fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas's Mercedes. Raikkonen crossed the line a frustrated fifth.
Meanwhile, the Ferrari twins followed closely behind Ricciardo with Vettel at P5 and Australian ensured to keep the red cars at bay.
Fifteen cars finished Sunday's race, with neither McLaren making it to the flag.