Reigning Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has waded into the sport's sex debate in suggesting that one day a female driver will 'come along and kick everyone's a*se' in the top flight - as his McLaren-Mercedes team defended its star turn from the criticism he has received so far this year.

Only five women have ever participated at the highest level - Maria Teresa de Filippis in the late 1950s, Lella Lombardi and Divina Galica in the mid-1970s, Desir? Wilson in 1979 and Giovanna Amati in 1992 - and of them, only the late Lombardi ever troubled the scorers, with a half-point for sixth place in the tragic 1975 Spanish Grand Prix at Montju?c Park, whilst the latter three never actually made the starting grid.

The 1976 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch is the only event in F1 history to-date with more than one woman driver on the entry list, though neither Lombardi (Brabham) nor Galica (Surtees) succeeded in qualifying for the race. Current leading female competitors include DTM aces Susie Stoddart and Katherine Legge, and IndyCar Series race-winner and poster girl Danica Patrick, who was linked to an ultimately abortive test outing with Honda late last year.

"As the world evolves a woman is bound to come along and kick everyone's a*se," Hamilton told The Sun. "I'll hope for the best when that comes."

The 24-year-old's view point is somewhat at odds with the opinion expressed by compatriot and Brawn GP world championship leader Jenson Button, who joked last year in an interview with men's lifestyle magazine FHM that: "A girl with big boobs would never be comfortable in the car, and the mechanics wouldn't concentrate. Can you imagine strapping her in? You wouldn't want to be on the circuit with them, would you?"

Hamilton's 2009 form may pale into near-insignificance compared to that of Button, who looks increasingly odds-on to follow in his Stevenage rival's wheel tracks in lifting the drivers' laurels come season's end - but McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has been quick to defend his young charge's performances both this year and last, in the wake of two successive failures to make it beyond the initial Q1 phase of qualifying in Monaco and Istanbul.

"Lewis has done an extraordinary job this year in what is a new experience for him," the Englishman stressed. "There will always be people who will look at [him] winning in the most competitive car - in the past Lewis has been in the best karts and the best junior formulae teams. He has had an entire career of going to a racetrack with the firm conviction that if he had the equipment and he did a good enough job, he would win the race.

"Sadly we have not provided him with that this year - and that has been a big learning experience for him. It is not an enjoyable experience, but we all learn from these situations, and Lewis will. He is an extraordinary racing driver and a worthy world champion, so any questions of him have already been answered."

Former F1 team owner-turned-BBC pundit Eddie Jordan described the aerodynamically poor MP4-24 as being 'quite simply hopeless, one of the worst possibly that McLaren have ever designed', and elsewhere in the paddock the car has been uncharitably labelled a 'boat' - but Whitmarsh revealed that a major upgrade is in the pipeline for the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim next month, or possibly even the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in just over a week's time should it be ready soon enough.

With Hamilton's title defence all-but over as he lies a gaping 52 points adrift of Button with only 100 left to play for over the balance of the campaign - having just endured the first three-race non-scoring run of his brief F1 career - attentions have been firmly turned towards 2010, when Whitmarsh ensured the same mistake will not be allowed to be made again.

"We have some of our technical big guns on next year's programme because we need to," the 51-year-old explained. "We will continue to work on this year's car, but inevitably we've got to now taper development resource into the new car.

"At the moment we're not fighting for a championship. We haven't given up and we're going to try to understand this car more - but we must make sure we have a car that's more competitive for next season."