LONDON Nov 14 (Reuters) - McLaren's Lewis Hamilton has played down the significance of being beaten by a team mate over the course of a season for the first time in his motor racing career.
The Briton won in Abu Dhabi on Sunday but left the Yas Marina circuit knowing that whatever happens in next week's season-ending race in Brazil, he cannot overtake Jenson Button in the championship.
Button is second overall with 255 points, Hamilton fifth with 227.
"For me it's irrelevant if he has finished ahead of me because we want to win the championship," Hamilton told Reuters after celebrating his third win of a season he has already written off as one of his worst.
"You go and play golf and some days you lose. You could just have an off day and this has been an off year.
"It's not too bad to have an off year (considering that) I've been racing since I was eight years old. To have my first off year I don't think is too bad, and considering the stuff I've been going through, I don't think I've done too bad to be where I am."
Hamilton hailed his 17th career victory as one of his best, and even though the race under the Yas floodlights was no thriller it set up a potentially gripping finale at Interlagos for British bragging rights.
McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh suggested his two drivers, both champions, would want to make sure they ended up with more wins than the other -- with the pair now level on three each for 2011.
"I know them both well enough (to know) that they will want to be the driver who comes out of the year with four wins," said Whitmarsh. "They'll both fancy their chances of winning in Brazil."
Hamilton, now making something of a habit of disagreeing with his boss, shook his head.
"That's not the case," he said firmly. "We both want to win, but it doesn't matter whether he gets it or I get it. We still end up on a high."
Button, the 2009 champion, also played down the rivalry while expressing excitement at giving Red Bull's double world champion Sebastian Vettel a run for his money in the final race.
Vettel, who clinched his second title in October with four races to spare, suffered his first retirement in more than a year on Sunday.
With Button finishing third, that meant that over the last eight races since Hungary in July, the Briton has scored 146 points to Vettel's 158.
"You have to win races, you've got to get more points than your team mate, consistently do a good job on race weekends," said Button, who focused on the thrill of racing Hamilton rather than beating him.
"You need a bit of everything, and it's nice finishing in front of your team mate over a season. It's not easy when your team mate is Lewis Hamilton because he is extremely quick, but we've had some good battles this year.
"For me, I take away the battles and the fights we've had this year, and the competitiveness between us, and we've only actually touched once," added the 2009 champion.
"I'm in a great team here, I'm enjoying myself in Formula One, and it's nice fighting at the front with other world champions...I'm looking forward to the last race, hopefully a good signoff, and then start it all over again next year." (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer; For Reuters sports blog Left Field go to: blogs.reuters.com/sport)