McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh has said that Jenson Button is someone who could be 'easily underestimated' – and suggested that Lewis Hamilton could well have underestimated the challenge provided by his team-mate.
The pair have carried McLaren to second in the constructors' championship this season having taken three wins apiece in 2011, while Button heads to the season finale in Brazil sitting second in the championship.
In the process, the 2009 title winner has become the first driver to beat Hamilton within the McLaren team since he joined the grid in 2007, and Whitmarsh suggested that he may have underestimated the challenge Button would provide.
“Possibly. He probably did, yes,” he told the official F1 website when asked if he thought Hamilton had underestimated Button. “Let's be open about it. Lewis, throughout his career, has destroyed every team mate that's come his way. Bear in mind that in many ways he virtually destroyed Fernando Alonso when Fernando was a two-time world champion and Lewis was a rookie. He did the same with Nico Rosberg in karting frankly - and every other team mate on his way into Formula One.
“He was disarmed by Jenson at the beginning and he probably thought that he was a nice guy, but he'd beat him. And he was probably surprised. Jenson on the other hand is of course also keen to beat his team-mate but he would never do it in an underhand manner. For both drivers it's true that there are no politics involved and both want to contribute equally to the team.
“Of course when you join a team as a driver and know that I have known Lewis since he was eleven you might question whether you would be treated equally. But all the talk about who is the number-one driver in the team is media-made, as McLaren have always been a team that let their drivers race. That is our spirit and we remain true to it.”
Whitmarsh admitted that Button's performances this season had gone a long way towards changing people's perceptions of him as a driver, with his working relationship with Hamilton having been key to McLaren bouncing back from a disastrous winter to salvage something from 2011.
“Jenson is a person that is easily underestimated,” he said. “You could ask whether he really is a fighter and whether he has the hunger, because he has such superb manner. Sometimes that might be a worry before you know him better, but I have to say that I know him a lot better now. You only have to stand back to see how hard he's raced and how hard he pushed in Canada for his incredible win. It was raw determination.
“He has his battles with Lewis and wants to beat Lewis and that's as we want it to be. I think we have a very good dynamic in the team because I know that teams can often talk about tranquillity and relationships in a team and put some spin on it, but I think that anyone who witnesses our drivers sees that there is genuine respect there.
“Even in the heat of the moment like in Canada, where Lewis could have been easy meat for the media, he showed extraordinary maturity and the way it was handled spoke volumes about the relationship in the team and especially between the two guys.”