The onset of evening rain meant that the tenth Singapore Grand Prix would be its first in wet conditions - indeed, its first wet session in that time - but the race still started from the grid, rather than behind the safety auto.
But he admitted Mercedes is unlikely to have the best race pace.
After the race Red Bull team principal Christian Horner revealed Ricciardo also had a gearbox issue.
Ricciardo avoided opening-lap mayhem to slot in second behind Lewis Hamilton, but while Red Bull looked considerably faster than Mercedes for most of the weekend, the Australian couldn't mount a victory challenge. "Who would have known that would happen", Hamilton said.
It is a crucial pole for Vettel on one of the three hardest tracks to overtake on in Formula One.
"I think there was damage on the auto already and then it didn't matter, to be honest", the German told Britain's Channel 4 television.
"It's a long race but we are on the wrong side of the track so that doesn't help".
Hamilton added: "I got everything I could out of the auto".
A replay showed fluid streaming out of Vettel's damaged sidepod after Turn 1 and it is likely it caused him to lose the rear of his vehicle and hammer his Ferrari against the concrete wall.
He said: "I didn't see that much". However, race control decided against taking the option of starting the race under the Safety Car.
"So there's two, for sure, opportunities and then one potential one if there is a safety auto", he said. "You saw Sebastian pull sharp left on him, he probably didn't know Kimi was to the left of him and he had absolutely nowhere to go and then got hit again unfortunately".
The FIA has said the incident will be investigated after the race. Remarkably, Alonso was able to continue despite his McLaren having effectively been disembowelled, with entrails hanging from its left hand side, and ran just outside the points until the inevitable happened on lap nine and he was forced to retire.
Daniil Kvyat put his Toro Rosso into the Turn 7 wall amid tricky conditions on Lap 11, and Marcus Ericsson crashed his Sauber on the Anderson Bridge on Lap 38.