The German eventually wound up fifth, just 27s back from racewinner Nico Rosberg and 17s away from team mate Kimi Raikkonen - deficits made all the more impressive given the lack of any late safety cars.
"We slowly got into the groove and I enjoyed it a lot," Vettel said of his drive. "At one point I thought we could get very close to the battle for third, but we lost a bit too much in the opening stage of the race, which was expected. We were hoping for a safety car that didn't come, but nevertheless an optimum result."
Having pulled off a string of overtakes to scythe his way through the field, Vettel was also a runaway winner in the fans vote of who starred at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
"That's nice, thank you very much," he said of being crowned Driver of the Day for the first time. "I think we can be happy - it was tough yesterday, even tougher when you don't get to participate, but the car came alive today on the ultrasoft tyre and we got the best out of it.
"We have a lot of stuff to look at. Mercedes are very strong and for the past three years they've won more or less every race, but we are here to fight - and that's how we'll approach the last few races..."