Vettel came under increasing pressure from Ricciardo's Red Bull in the latter stages of the race, the Ferrari driver having jumped ahead through the third round of pit stops. The flash point came on lap 59, when Ricciardo barrelled down the inside at Turn 1, forcing Vettel to take avoiding action to prevent contact.
The German was able to respond and snatch third place back, but vented his disapproval of his former team mate over the radio, saying: "If I don't avoid that, he crashes straight into my car!"
Speaking later, however, Vettel signalled a change of stance: "Of course in the heat of the moment you are upset because had I not given in we both would have ended our race that very moment - if I had closed the door at that very moment it would have ended in a shunt.
"I have done enough races to be able to steer and look into the rear mirror [so] it went well for both of us - but it was marginal.
"Now I have cooled down, I have to say had I been in his position I also would have tried it. We are both experienced enough to know that if the other plays along we both stay in the race."
Vettel said he was convinced he could have triumphed in Barcelona had he opted for what proved to be the faster two-stop race strategy, adding: "If you start in P5 and P6 and end with both cars on the podium, that is not too bad - but I do believe that a win was possible.
"Very likely [the strategy ruined his victory hopes], yes. But in hindsight you are always smarter!
"I don't blame the team. I was the one actually pushing to go down the [three-stop] route and attack. We did, and it didn't work."
Vettel's third place kept up his record of finishing on the podium in every race he has finished this season, though his two 2016 retirements have proved costly - he sits fourth overall in the driver standings, two spots and 13 points behind Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen.