Williams has confirmed chief technical officer Paddy Lowe is to take a “leave of absence” from Formula 1 on the eve of the 2019 season.

The Grove-based outfit suffered a troublesome start to the year after being forced to delay the debut of the FW42 in pre-season testing.

This resulted in the team missing the opening two-and-a-half days of the first test, with deputy team principal Claire Williams labelling the delay as “embarrassing”,

Williams’ slow start, plus on-track performance in testing, led to speculation over Lowe’s immediate future at the team.

The ex-Mercedes and McLaren tech chief originally denied he was considering leaving his position but has chosen to walk away for “personal reasons”.

It is unclear what Lowe’s intended absence means for his Williams career; the Englishman re-joined the British marque in 2017 after winning three consecutive titles with Mercedes.

Pressure had already begun building on Lowe, who influenced the design of Williams’ 2018 car, when the team registered the lowest finish in its history last year.

Williams head to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix with the least amount of laps in testing. Drivers George Russell and Robert Kubica’s lack of running led them to suggest it will likely be slowest of all the 10 teams.