It is the quiet period of the motorsport year, before the first big events, although the Formula 1 factories across Europe are buzzing with activity as the teams prepare the 2013 cars for the start of testing, now less than a month away.

The major activity at the moment is the Dakar Rally, which began in Lima, Peru on 2 January and will finish in Santiago, Chile, on 20 January. The teams that get to the finish will have covered 5,600 of extreme desert and mountain terrain.

The Dakar dates back to 1978 when it began as an off-road race from Paris to Dakar, in Senegal, across the Sahara Desert. Since the 2008 event had to be cancelled because of marauding bands of al-Qaeda terrorists in Mauritania, the race switched to South America, where the terrain is just as challenging, but where there are fewer political problems. The Africans would like the Dakar to return, but with their region ever-more unstable, that is not at all likely.

The Dakar is still big business and is run by the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which also organises the Tour de France cycle race, the Paris Marathon and a string of other sporting events, in addition to owning the French daily sports newspaper L’Equipe.

I have not covered the Dakar in South America, but back in 1989 I did go on one of the races in Africa, in fact it was there that I first met FIA President Jean Todt, who at the time was running the Peugeot rally raid team. Our paths first crossed in the town of Agadez in northern Niger, but a few days later we fell out when the rally reached the town of Gao, on the banks of the great Niger river.