- McLaren team principal says Lewis Hamilton was surprised by Jenson Button
- Martin Whitmarsh claims Hamilton has destroyed all previous teammates
- Button is second in the drivers' championship this season, with Hamilton fifth
- Hamilton has recently twice dismissed statements by Whitmarsh
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has risked a further clash with Lewis Hamilton by suggesting the Formula One driver is guilty of underestimating his teammate Jenson Button.
A public war of words is developing between the two as they attempt to explain the 2008 world champion's disappointing season so far.
Whitmarsh's latest claim -- that Hamilton expected to dominate his fellow Englishman following the 2009 title winner arrived from Brawn -- comes just days after the 26-year-old's third race win of 2011, in Abu Dhabi.
Button was third on Sunday, but is second overall behind world champion Sebastian Vettel while Hamilton languishes in fifth ahead of the final event in Brazil on November 27.
Hamilton edged the pair's first season together, winning three races to his teammate's two and finishing fourth in the drivers' standings, one place above his colleague.
"Lewis, throughout his career, has destroyed every teammate that's come his way," Whitmarsh told the F1 website. "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 (in 2007).
"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."
Hamilton has recently twice reacted to comments from Whitmarsh, calling his team principal's assertion that he had suffered due to Button's superior form as "rubbish."
He then dismissed Whitmarsh's statement that both drivers would be seeking a fourth individual victory of 2011 at Interlagos in order to be the team's most successful member.
"For the life of me I don't know why he would say that because that's not the case," Hamilton said in quotes reported by the UK Press Association.
"Of course we both want to win, but it doesn't matter whether he or I get it, we still end up on a high. That's my view anyway."
Whitmarsh confirmed on Tuesday that there is a competitive relationship between the drivers, but dismissed suggestions it could cause a rift within the team.
"(Jenson) is of course also keen to beat his teammate but he would never do it in an underhand manner," he said. "For both drivers it's true that there are no politics involved and both want to contribute equally to the team.
"When you join a team as a driver, and know that I have known Lewis since he was 11, 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."
Both have been comprehensively out-performed by Vettel this season. The Red Bull driver has won 11 out of 18 races on his way to becoming F1's youngest double world champion.
Red Bull have also clinched the constructors' championship, with McLaren second, for the second year in a row.
Whitmarsh praised the UK-based Austrian team's achievements, but outlined his determination to outdo them in 2012.
"You have to say that Sebastian, Red Bull, and (chief technical officer) Adrian Newey did a fantastic job. Sebastian in particular did a spectacular job. But we are not here to come in second," he said.
"It's a frustrating position to be in, to be honest. We were second last year as well and we definitely don't want to make it a habit.
"We haven't done as good a job as I like us to do but hopefully we will end the season with another win. Then we press the reset button, spend a few weeks away in the winter and next year is another year."