Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda went so far as to suggest that Vettel had the speed to seize Ferrari's first pole position since the Singapore Grand Prix in 2015 but Hamilton did just enough in qualifying to secure top spot.
Lewis Hamilton believes his respectful relationship with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel will be able to endure a battle for the Formula One championship.
A win in Bahrain - where he has finished second in four of the five races since his comeback in 2012 - is absolutely essential if he wants to prove to Ferrari he can help lead a two-pronged challenge for the world championship.
Both like this track and, with evenly matched cars, will be expecting another victory.
Force India driver Esteban Ocon continued his good start to the season and recorded his second consecutive points scoring finish after he again grabbed the final point at the Shanghai worldwide circuit.
Fernando Alonso's stunning announcement that the two-time Formula 1 World Champion will skip the Grand Prix of Monaco to compete in the 101st Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport is. There is little to separate them and they are clearly relishing the battle.
"I enjoy that fact that we are racing together in these cars", added Hamilton, of his battle with Vettel, who won the season opening race in Melbourne in March.
"There's awesome sportsmanship you know, he enjoys it and also acknowledges the person next door, and we'll do the same thing". And even when you lose it's the same thing. Those times were however only good enough to leave the Swiss team 17th and 18th on the timesheet.
"I've worked very, very hard on it", said Hamilton.
Having previously elicited a lukewarm appraisal of the four-time champion - whose superiority came turning the wheel of peerless machinery at Red Bull, perhaps Hamilton acknowledges that possessing a class of the field package is no guarantee of triumph. "He is at his best and he is phenomenally quick", Hamilton told reporters after winning in China.
Over the past few seasons, fans have been crying out for a challenger to take the fight to Mercedes, and this year it looks like Ferrari could have answered that call.
How long the mutual admiration will last remains to be seen.
Sunday's race promises to present itself as an intriguing one.
Another team hoping for better results are Red Bull, who find themselves too far behind Mercedes and Ferrari but also ahead of everyone else early in the season. On top of that, they now have a new major rivalry brewing.
Last year's race in Bahrain does not hold great memories for either of the current Mercedes drivers, either.
The dash to the first corner is 400 meters and flat out fast, and braking at the right time heading into it will be crucial.
German driver Pascal Wehrlein, who missed the first two races with a back injury, returned with Sauber and completed 23 laps in 18th place and only marginally slower than Swedish team mate Marcus Ericsson.