Taking full advantage, Valtteri made the second decisive pass of his compatriot to re-take the race lead on lap 27 and managed to be late enough on the brakes at the end of the back straight into Turn 14 to prevent Vettel launching a DRS-assisted overtaking attempt down his inside. Räikkönen, his challenge blunted by such a long opening stint, was then immediately brought in for a swap onto the Medium compound Pirellis. Valtteri, so far, had been wheel-perfect all afternoon - but Lady Luck was about to conspire against him.
Further down the field Pierre Gasly, who had already pitted, was on tyres 10 laps fresher than Toro Rosso team mate Brendon Hartley and under the impression that the Kiwi was leaving the door open for him at the Turn 14 hairpin. Hartley, however, was planning to let Gasly through on exit, as he'd done earlier in the race, and turned in. The Toro Rossos hit each other on lap 29 and left shards of carbon fibre bodywork on the track.
Renault driver Carlos Sainz was among those who radioed in to say there was enough debris on the circuit to warrant a Safety Car and, on lap 31, it was deployed. Unfortunately for Valtteri, he and Vettel's second-placed Ferrari had already passed the pit entry and so there was no opportunity to stop and go onto another set of the Soft compound tyre to counter having their lead erased by the Safety Car.
With Verstappen 5s behind Vettel on the road, Red Bull had just enough time to call the Dutchman into the pits to go back onto the Softs. Lewis, still just 2s behind Verstappen, stayed out, while Ricciardo, from 4s behind Lewis, was also called in to go back onto the faster yellow-walled Pirelli, losing just one place to Räikkönen in the process as Red Bull performed its second trouble-free double stop of the afternoon.
With 21 racing laps left when the Safety Car came in, the remainder of the Chinese Grand Prix was going to be fascinating. Valtteri led on Medium compound Pirellis a lap older than Vettel's. Then came Lewis on the same compound but two laps older than the Ferraris, followed by Verstappen on new Soft compound Pirellis - a threat, obviously - then Räikkönen on relatively new Mediums, who might have been expected to delay the progress of Ricciardo, also on new Softs.