He got a poor start, and the young Dutchman capitalised, as did Lewis Hamilton from the second row, knowing that a top seven finish would be enough to secure him the drivers' championship.
Hamilton dropped to fifth behind Raikkonen who also just had one stop, and complained again about tyre problems by saying via team radio "something is definitely not right when I have fresh tyres and still can't match their times".
"I didn't sleep very well last night", said Verstappen. "I was just trying to bring the vehicle home". "I'm here for a few more years, so hopefully I'll get close".
Since he announced his shock move from Red Bull to Renault for 2019, his results have made for sorry reading: DNF, DNF, 6th, 6th, 4th, DNF, DNF.
In last year's race, Hamilton clashed with Vettel off the line, but the Mercedes driver is eyeing an aggressive start on Sunday.
"I'm holding a lot of emotion in", the Australian said. Vettel won all his championships with Red Bull from 2010-2013.
The Mercedes star, 33, started well but he was passed by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, and then ran off the road while battling for position with the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. I don't see the point doing the next two races.
Reflecting on his season Hamilton added: "It has been the toughest year physically, mentally and personally with everything I'm committed to, but I have awesome support".
Vettel told the crowd afterwards that Hamilton's title was "well deserved" - then the pair shared a hug as Hamilton waved to spectators.
Team principal Christian Horner described that eighth retirement in 19 races as "absolutely gutting', with Red Bull fretting about whether he would make it to the finish".
From there, Hamilton just made sure he got his vehicle over the line, and was promoted one place after Ricciardo's engine blew up with 10 laps remaining.
Valtteri Bottas stopped on track with a hydraulics problem, and his Mercedes crew now face a race against time to get his vehicle ready for qualifying.
"As soon as we got into qualifying, we knew straight away with the way the vehicle was feeling, I was like "OK we're in a much stronger position to fight for positions". I'll let Gasly drive it, I'm done with it". "You can understand his frustration and hope that this dark cloud that's following around lifts for the final two races".